Review: The Searching Dead by Ramsey Campbell

The Searching Dead by Ramsey Campbell
Flame Tree Press (February 16th, 2021)
256 pages; hardcover $24.95; $14.95 paperback; $6.99 e-book
Reviewed by Sadie “Mother Horror” Hartmann

“The Three Births of Daoloth” series is a trilogy that was previously released in hardcover, limited editions by PS Publishing. Now, the series is getting a reprint by Flame Tree Press and is poised to get a whole new fanbase for this epic, cosmic horror story.

Book one, The Searching Dead, is a coming-of-age tale from the narrator’s perspective. Dominic Sheldrake lives in post-war Liverpool during the fifties. He is joined by two friends Jim and Roberta and they nickname themselves, the Tremendous Three.

Dominic’s bedroom window overlooks a cemetery (how creepy is that?) and he begins to see a strange young man wandering the grounds. He later suspects this same man has positioned himself into the lives of several people in their small community — including Dom’s new history teacher and possibly his neighbor’s new “church” leader.

In classic coming-of-age form, Ramsey Campbell sends this group of friends to search out answers about the mysterious nature of this stranger among them. Even though it’s a bit of a slow burn, the intriguing nature of the story is wildly engaging. At the end of every chapter I wanted more, which speaks to the perfect nature of the pace.

The details of the setting and the personality of the main protagonist are so rich I wondered if anything I was reading was autobiographical. It’s that convincing. Also, I must mention how obvious it is that Campbell has been working at his craft for decades. I was in the hands of a seasoned storyteller. Having spent most of 2020 reading stories from up and coming authors, I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge what it feels like to read a book from someone who has been telling horror stories for generations and has a back catalog of literally hundreds of books and stories; prolific to say the very least.

I have only just begun my journey into cosmic horror. I read my first (The Fisherman by John Langan) only a few years ago and have come to appreciate the genre.

Clearly, Campbell reaches back into Lovecraftian mythos to infuse this trilogy with familiar mystical elements. In learning more about this series, I discovered that the narrator will age over the course of the next two books. In Born to the Dark, Dom is married and they have a son — the boy is plagued by some kind of night terrors that manifest as physical episodes. Dom is troubled and feels like the darkness he encountered in his young life might have returned. I’m so excited for the rest of this series! I highly recommend this trilogy for new Ramsey Campbell fans like myself. This seems like the best possible introduction to his body of work.

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