Searching Dead, The (Book)

The Searching DeadWritten by Ramsey Campbell

271 Pages

Published by PS Publishing


The Searching Dead is the first part of a trilogy which will ultimately form The Three Births of Daoloth. Despite being a first-parter, it is actually a great read in its own right, and I felt the ending was suitably conclusive as a standalone, so I wouldn’t hold back on reading this now rather than waiting for the next book. Although it doesn’t end on a cliff-hanger, which personally I find annoying at times, the ending leaves unanswered questions that will doubtless be explored in future books in the series. Not least of these will involve Daoloth itself, the render of the veils, which is barely mentioned in the first book, although there are subtle hints peppered throughout the first part of this trilogy…

The format at times is reminiscent of previous generations of writers, referring as it does to a dark tome of arcane knowledge which is suitably extracted in the latter part of the story. And although this series builds on the Lovecraftian mythos from where Campbell’s roots firmly sprout, that is not to say it is Lovecraftian in tone, for the language is modern and far from baroque or florid. Nor is it overly-peppered with the trademark Campbell-isms which any of his regular readers will doubtless recognise, although there are enough to keep us grinning darkly as we race through the story.

Set in the early 1950s and written largely as the reminiscences of a schoolboy on the threshold of his own journey to maturity, The Searching Dead is far from a ‘coming of age’ story. Although not printed as such, the narrative hints at times that it may be transcribed from our protagonist’s (Dominic Sheldrake) diary in the manner of Adrian Mole, and at others it becomes more of a Biggles-style adventure that the Tremendous Three (Dominic, Jim and Roberta aka Bobby) find themselves entangled in. Among the main characters are an ominously stooping schoolteacher who talks to his young offspring as though she is an adult, and who responds likewise; a woman whose misguided spiritualist beliefs and faith have led her to regret something she’d only recently longed and wished for; assorted schoolteacher-priests of varying levels of devout beliefs, the protagonists’ families who are eager to keep the youngsters away from adventures, but who themselves become drawn into it, and the usual politics of a post-war British city that abounds with religious, political and family concerns.

To my mind, if Enid Blyton had worked alongside the likes of HP Lovecraft or Brian Lumley (especially his Necroscope series), then this is the resultant story, and it works extremely well, although what Sheldrake witnessed on a school trip to France is hardly something the Famous Five would have encountered.

The backdrop for the story, as with many of Campbell’s stories, is one which he is intimately familiar with. There is a street party for Queen Elizabeth’s Coronation, trips to the cinema accompanied by an usherette wielding a flashlight (torch) and bus rides through Liverpool’s post-war, bombed-out landscape that has – for the most part – now perished to be replaced with a new growth of commerce and urban sprawl.

To summarize, the story demonstrates to me a new direction for Campbell in some ways as his various favorite topics, writing styles and techniques become blended to become a new and easily consumable format which newcomers to Campbell will doubtless enjoy. I eagerly await the second and third in the trilogy!

 

 

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Steve Dillon

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