The Searching Dead by Ramsey Campbell, grand master of cosmic horror, is a phenomenal, magical portal that leads into the renowned trilogy, The Three Births of Daoloth. Campbell performs at his best in this evocative first-person narrative that documents a subtle, creeping introduction to supernatural, coming of age, cosmic horror.
The tale is told by Dominick Seldrake, a young schoolboy who lives in Liverpool just after World War Two. Campbell’s representation of the setting is remarkably vivid. Readers will be transported to Liverpool, to see, hear, smell, and feel the aura. Campbell’s depictions of personal interactions are transformational and place the readers there with Dominick and his two friends, Jim and Bobby (Roberta), also known as The Tremendous Three.
Dominick lives in a middle class neighborhood. His bedroom window overlooks community allotments and a cemetery, discordant symbols of planting and harvesting. In front of his house are three rose bushes, perhaps foreshadowing the strained relationships between the Tremendous Three. Perceptive readers will notice the repetition of the sacred number three, repetitions that increase throughout the trilogy and dominate the final novel.
Campbell’s mastery of horror is enhanced by his mastery of characterization. His depictions of familial interactions evoke a vivid sense of reality and loving tenderness. Readers will feel they are there, sitting at the table with Dominick and his parents. They will feel Dominick’s pain when he spots Jim and Bobby kissing and will applaud his bravery when he refuses to acquiesce to evil forces. Most importantly, readers will fear for Dominick as he overcomes childhood fears as he attempts to solve the mystery of Mr. Norris and protect his neighborhood from supernatural danger.
The plot is tight, complex, and structured. The mystery is revealed in small increments as in the best of detective novels. In addition, Campbell’s plots are original. He creates great cosmic horror without directly mirroring Lovecraft or any other.
Campbell’s atmospheric writing style is always smooth and easy to read. His expert use of use shifting symbolism reveals hints at the future and highlights subplots.
The story begins with Dominick and his parents taking a Sunday afternoon stroll near their home. Dominick is uncomfortable because his proud parents forced him to wear the uniform of his new Catholic grammar school, The Holy Ghost School. Campbell introduces Dominick’s neighbor, Mrs. Norris, a lonely widow who believes her dead husband comes to visit her due to her association with secret spiritualist meetings that takes place at The Trinity Church of the Spirit. Disturbed by her statements, Dominick’s parents send him to his room to protect him from the unknowable.
When Dominick, who longs to become a writer, is sent to his room, he leaves his door ajar and listens the forbidden conversation among his parents and Mrs. Norris. Later that night, barking dogs wake him. He goes to his window to see what has caused the commotion. There in the darkness he spots a tall, dark, mysterious figure pushing a stroller. At first, Dominick thinks the man is walking through the allotment, pulling up vegetables. Later, he realizes that the man was pushing the stroller through the cemetery. So then what was he pulling up from the ground?
Soon after, Dominick and Jim begin the school year at the Catholic grammar school. There they meet the new, tall, dark, mysterious teacher, Mr. Noble, and Dominick realizes Noble is the man who was walking in the cemetery late at night, with a child in a stroller. Dominick is determined to solve the mystery of Mr. Noble and enlists his friends Bobby and Jim in his quest to understand things such as the ancient rite of the three. When Mr. Nobles secret journal inadvertently falls into Dominick’s hands, his life changes forever. He goes on a dangerous journey of discovery that comes between him and his two friends.
Readers will wonder if Dominick will reach his goal and if the tremendous three will remain unified or if they will rebuke each other like the three thorny rose bushes?
The Searching Dead comes very highly recommended. There can be no doubt that readers will be driven to reading the rest of this tremendous trilogy.
Alphonse is Obsessed
Book Title: The Searching Dead
Book Author: Ramsey Campbell
Book Format: Hardcover
Publisher: P.S. Publishing
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