Zakk reviews “The Booking: Black Labyrinth Book III” by Ramsey Campbell. 76 pages published by Dark Regions Press, 2016.
“Kiefer had to squint, pinching an ache between his eyebrows, to be certain that the discoloured wooden sign above the grimy window said BOOKS ARE LIFE.
How much could the owner of a business that looked so decrepit afford to pay him? Kiefer was tempted to retreat before he was seen and embarrassed. He couldn’t help thinking the street resembled a trap, enclosed at one end by the featureless concrete rear of the precinct and at the other by a brick wall at least twice his height, not to mention the lid of a low January sky as dully blank as a dormant computer screen.”
From Grand Master horror author Ramsey Campbell (Alone with the Horrors, Ancient Images) comes a frightening new psychological horror novella, third book in the ongoing Black Labyrinth imprint illustrated by Santiago Caruso and published by Dark Regions Press.
Kiefer is desperate for a job when he comes upon an opening at a curious bookstore in England, BOOKS ARE LIFE. He approaches the owner for a job and gets it, learning quickly that the owner is stranger than the books he sells in the shop. As he continues to help the bookstore’s transition to the Internet, he discovers oddities in the shop and has increasingly strange visions and encounters.
This book store is very unique, like its owner, and it will bring to key for the most intense and revealing era of his life.
“It was even less like a library than he’d suspected. The books weren’t arranged by author or by any concept he was able to discern, not subject nor yet title. They weren’t even separated into fiction and its opposite, but he wouldn’t be surprised if the proprietor knew where every item was. If the books were in the order of one solitary mind, what did that say about the man? Perhaps just that he was no more eccentric than many booksellers, which might explain why he seemed to be hiding from his visitor, and Kiefer was preparing to call out or at least to clear his throat when he realised he was being watched from a back room.”
How Ramsey Campbell isn’t lauded more here in the states, is beyond me. He is a Grand Master of his craft and simply put, a God of Horror Literature. His scripture’s are dense, cryptic, challenging and obtuse. Which culminates in a wholly satisfying read, as long as you’ve managed to hold on. I guess high brow, thought challenging horrific literature is an acquired taste, that’s unfortunate.
I’ve read a few books of Mr. Campbell’s (not nearly as much as I’d like, I’m ashamed to say) but I feel that I’ve grasped his concepts well enough to walk away from each with my head held high. The beauty of it is, nobody can tell me otherwise. Victory.
The same can be said for The Booking. The third entry in Dark Region Press’ Black Labyrinth fantastic series of psychological horror novellas. It’s the tale of a young man seeking employment with an eccentric old man who is reluctantly bringing his business into the digital realm. A realm that the shopkeep despises and distrusts. And in Ramsey Campbell fashion, it is a wonderful read.
It almost feels like a sacralidge reading this as an ebook. The Booking makes me yearn for a heavy, musty leather-bound tome enjoyed in the comfort of high backed reading chair in a dark home library. Add your favorite vice, cigar or spirit, and let the shadows take you away.
The prose here floaty and hypnotic, the closest interpretation to a dreamlike state without actually being asleep. Like the characters in The Booking accuse each other of, Mr. Campbell plays with his words, like a master chef. Any line can, and just may, have multiple meanings. Implying a magnitude of interpretations.
It is pretty amazing just how off-balance, how intoxicated the reading experience makes you feel. Like you, the reader, are constantly trying to stay on your feet and keep up with events that are attempting to remain elusive. It’s a game, and making it to the end is your reward.
The dialog between characters has a crafted imbalance to it. Like they are having simultaneous separate conversations, intentionally trying to run rings aground each other, all the while trying to run rings around you.
The Booking is a beautiful performance. Highly recommended.
“Kiefer stepped forward, but not far. The elongated passage stretched past open rooms containing exactly what he expected to see—shelf upon shelf of books—and he could have thought it was reaching for the dark. Perhaps the flashlight had begun to strobe, unless he couldn’t hold it steady, because the books appeared to be twitching on the shelves, jerking out of their own shadows as though eager to be seen—eager for him to open them so that they could add their contents to his mind. He was close to imagining that he could hear their impatience, a clamour of whispers on the brink of definition. It was just a wind ruffling their pages, but this made no sense either. He’d had enough of books for one night, and he retreated to his room.”
Overall score: 5/ 5
Zakk is a big dumb animal!
“Books are Life”
**Note: I received a review copy of this book from the publisher on the promise of an honest review. These are my unbiased feelings.
About the author:
Ramsey Campbell (born 4 January 1946 in Liverpool) is an English horror fiction author, editor and critic. Since he first came to prominence in the mid-1960s, critics have cited Campbell as one of the leading writers in his field: T. E. D. Klein has written that “Campbell reigns supreme in the field today”, while S. T. Joshi stated, “future generations will regard him as the leading horror writer of our generation, every bit the equal of Lovecraft or Blackwood.”
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