Thirteen Days by Sunset Beach is more than speculative fiction; it is a subtle exploration of how dysfunctional family dynamics can obfuscate signs that warn of impending danger. Perhaps Ramsey Campbell wants readers to open their eyes—especially in the dark.
Readers who lust after blood spatters and airborne body parts should look elsewhere for stimulation. Thirteen Days by Sunset Beach is a book for thinking readers who can analyze subtle clues and symbols and sense what lurks in the shadows that haunt the apparent world.
Ray and his beloved wife Sandra arrive at the island of Vasilema off the coast of Greece. As they wait for the next two generations of their family to arrive, readers come to realize that Sandra does not have long to live. She is specter thin and her bones are palpable. Ray’s tender touches and concerns reveal his love and heartbreaking dread. Perhaps this group vacation will be the last time the extended family will be together.
Vasilema is a strange island shaded by cloudy skies. Quiet in the dusky daytime, the island wakes at sunset, and the beach fills with slim, shadowy revelers who celebrate the dark, take strength from the dark. Ray is warned to stay away from the beach at night. Before long, gaunt shadows begin to visit their room while they sleep, and Sandra wakes with a mark on her neck. Of course, it must only be an insect sting.
When the next two generations of the family arrive, they begin to explore the island. Between bouts of bickering, they investigate an abandoned monastery surrounded by dark trees, learn about the local patron saint who is worshiped at night, and discover symbolic depictions of spiders.
Although locals warn the family to stay away from Sunset Beach, they does not listen. They ignore blessings, nightmares, and secret door knocks that should keep out unwanted visitors.
William, the youngest, begins to see disturbing visitors. The youngsters and Sandra experience frightening dreams that are strikingly similar. But are they dreams or reality? Still, the adults refuse to consider supernatural explanations. They ignore the fact that their phone cameras can only capture wavering images. Not a single photo reads true.
Things change when Ray decides to explore a watery cave. He wades inside to make sure it is safe for William to explore. There, he finds a desiccated body. It is Mr. Ditton, a missing tourist.
Ray finally begins to consider the possibility that something dark lurks beneath the surface of this perplexing island, and Sandra begins to gain weight and shrink from the sun. Ray is driven to find the secret that runs the island.
It could be said that Campbell’s greatest strength is his ability to create an extended mood. Instead of focusing on manifest horror, his mastery of subtlety hints at dark mysteries that will urge readers to lean into the text in search of answers. His prose is smooth and details create clear visuals. The characters are clearly drawn and consistent, true to themselves.
In Thirteen Days by Sunset Beach, the fundamental character is the dark itself. It acts as a living thing that breaths into character’s ears as they sleep. On Vasilema island, the dark is hungry and lusts after victims on which to feed.
True horror is not made by a gruesome monster; instead, it is the monster’s effect on characters that creates horror. Many readers will hope for a sequel to this mesmerizing story. Will Sandra continue to regain strength? Will the darkness follow Ray and his family home?
As the locals say, “Here nothing comes that is not called for.” Does Ray call the darkness?
Thirteen days by Sunset Beach will haunt readers and leave them searching for an elusive truth that dances just out of reach. Unanswered questions will leave them haunted by unsettling possibilities.
“May the night bless you.”