The Searching Dead by Ramsey Campbell

Review by Brennan LaFaro

The Searching Dead is the first book in a trilogy, originally released in 2016 but never widely available in the U.S. Flame Tree Press will be rectifying that over the next couple years, first with this one then with Born to the Dark next October, and The Way of the Worm following that.

My exposure to Ramsey Campbell has been limited, having read only one other novel and various short fiction. Even with that narrow array, the elements that make Campbell a legend in horror are obvious. Atmosphere is the first word that comes to mind, and it’s what makes The Searching Dead such a pleasure. Is pleasure the right word? Campbell tells a coming-of-age story that strays from the typical fare we’ve come to expect in books like It and Ghoul. These books give an authentic account of growing up in the 50’s or 80’s in small-town America, wearing their hearts on their sleeves. And they’re phenomenal. But The Searching Dead gives us a different viewpoint, that of 1950’s Liverpool.

It’s the quiet, subtle friendship between Dominic, Jim, and Bobby combined with the immersive nature of being in a catholic school and a community reflecting the charter of the school that contributes to the atmosphere’s effect on the story. The growth of the ‘tremendous three’, as they’re, dubbed feels authentic, from the beginnings of their collective rebellion in terms of strong language to attempts to explore feelings of friendship and perhaps more.

The book has creepy elements including the development of Christian Noble, the antagonist who begins as a teacher but doesn’t quite fit the community’s expectations. The Searching Dead succeeds equally in setting up his story as bringing us into the lives of Dom, Jim, and Bobby. The inclusion of Noble’s family paints a vivid picture, including his father setting events into motion, as well as his wife and daughter vividly walk us through the upheaval of a normally quiet town.

Like previous work I’ve read by Campbell, The Searching Dead moves at something of a slow-burn pace. New readers may find the pacing not to their taste but should stick with it. Once the cogs of the story begin to click into place, the reader is drawn in, potentially against their will, needing to discover what happens next. It’ll be a long wait for the next book in the series, but I’ll be anxiously looking forward to the next installment.

I received a copy from the publisher for review consideration.

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