Ramsey Campbell's Secret Story

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BLOT: (23 Nov 2010 - 01:12:47 PM)

Ramsey Campbell's Secret Story

I am reposting reviews that I have posted elsewhere for a couple of days. This one originally showed up on Goodreads. This version is probably triple the length of the original.

Ok, imagine you are a serial killer. Like most serial killers, you like to keep some sort of trophy for your kills, but your trophies aren't anything physical, just stories with changed names and slightly changed circumstances. Stories that tell about how your victim deserved it because she disrespected you, didn't see how great you were, did not understand how important you were. You write these stories for years, but keep your killing down enough that no one even realizes they have a serial killer on hand. Then your mom, your overbearing, loving mom, sends in one of the stories to a local writing contest. And it gets excepted. And, when some controversy breaks out, because one family thinks the story is just a little close to how their daughter died, the magazine use your story as a bit of publicity. There is even a low-budget local movie in the works. Rather than shy away from it, imagine that you start delighting in finally getting respect, and everything cracks open.

Has enough dreaded creep to it to fill a half-dozen books, but its plodding (not in a bad way) and unrelenting story telling can make it rough to read through it bit...by...bit. Dudley, the killer, finds his life sliding sideways, and the reader is treated to people mocking him without him even knowing or, when he knows, not quite being able to understand. Campbell regularly contrasts the insanity of what Dudley is actually saying against what the people who are using him want to hear. At his job, the coworkers that consider him young and weak and, for some reason, destined to end up with a vapid, overweight coworkers. This trivialization is not offered even as excuse or justification, just simply as bricks of fact in the pathetic wall that is his life.

As Dudley starts being drawn to a woman assigned to work with him, where other (and in his mind, lesser, I am sure) men would get flirty and/or shy, he begins to plot how he can add her to his list of "stories". Rather than make her a victim in a few short pages, Campbell makes it is the bulk of the novel, and Dudley's plans are slow as molasses. When they do come, Campbell reaches the top of some horrible game as he describes Dudley's breakdown from the inside. Looking at the victim that he has taped up, covering her entire face, he blames the victim for not looking human enough. For not being able to talk—through her gag—about how she feels. He begins to blame her from being tied up and tortured, for being a worm. A package only for his own enjoyment. Frustratingly accurate insights like that can make this a hard book to read when you factor in the aforementioned slowness, but it is worth it if a thoughtful, carefully planned examination appeals to you more than action sequences sqeezed in for effect.

Took me a week to make it through, found it best to go through only bits of a time (anything faster and I might have started skipping some pages), but frankly, it was a Good look at serial killers and the overall meandering emptiness of modern life.

BY WEEK: 2010, Week 47
BY MONTH: November 2010

Written by Doug Bolden

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