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The Searching Dead by Ramsey Campbell #BookReview

Dominic Sheldrake has never forgotten his childhood in fifties Liverpool or the talk an old boy of his grammar school gave about the First World War. When his history teacher took the class on a field trip to France it promised to be an adventure, not the first of a series of glimpses of what lay in wait for the world. Soon Dominic would learn that a neighbour was involved in practices far older and darker than spiritualism, and stumble on a secret journal that hinted at the occult nature of the universe. How could he and his friends Roberta and Jim stop what was growing under a church in the midst of the results of the blitz? Dominic used to write tales of their exploits, but what they face now could reduce any adult to less than a child…

The Searching Dead by Ramsey Campbell book cover

Title: The Searching Dead | Author: Ramsey Campbell | Series: The Three Births of Daoloth #1 | Publisher: Flame Tree Press | Pub. Date: 9 July 2020 | Pages: 256 | ISBN: 9781787585584 | Genre: Horror | Language: English | Starred Review: Yes | Source: Publisher

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The Searching Dead Review

A new novel from one of the greats of British horror is always something to welcome, even more so when it’s the first in a trilogy. Ramsey Campbell’s ‘The Searching Dead’ pretty much lives up to its own promise. It’s not the best horror novel I’ve ever read, but it does have a lot of good ideas and a richly satisfying coming of age story at its heart.

It’s that coming of age element that I enjoyed the most. This blend of nostalgic reminiscence and horror seems pretty popular, with notable entries from the pens of Stephen King and Robert McCammon over in the USA. It’s pleasing to see a British entry in the sub-genre, especially one as well executed as this. The book paints an affectionate picture of 1950s Liverpool (Campbell’s birthplace). I’m almost 30 years younger than him and grew up at the opposite end of the country, but much of what he describes is very familiar. Attempts to get into the cinema to see films I was underage for, borderline psychotic school teachers, parents who believed children should be seen and not heard, the escape from everyday drudgery that the written word provided.

That’s not to say that the horror is lacking here though. The story follows three school friends who suspect that one of their teachers is communing with the dead. There is a subtle malignancy to a lot of the scenarios, especially the relationship between the teacher and his daughter. As the story progresses, that chill ramps up to a crescendo of cosmic horror that is satisfyingly effective.

Ultimately, what shines through in this book is the simple quality of the writing. Campbell has been doing this since the 1970s and those decades of experience are evident on every page. He writes about the commonplace and the incredible with the same effortless grace and the result is a thoroughly engaging read.

You can purchase a copy of this book via your normal retailer, but please consider purchasing it from a local indie bookshop instead. It can be found here at Indiebound or at Bookshop. Please note the Bookshop link is an affiliate link and each purchase you make through it helps to support Sci-Fi & Scary and keep the site running.

Published inHorror Book ReviewsStarred Reviews

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