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Just Behind You
Ramsey Campbell
PS Publishing hardcover �20

review by Mario Guslandi

With more than 50 years of writing career behind him, Ramsey Campbell, celebrated author of many novels and countless short stories, is one of the most respected horror writers not only in the UK but all over the world. His narrative style is unique, easily recognisable and fruitlessly imitated by too many genre writers. If a label can be applied to his body of work, urban horror is probably the most appropriate. Campbell's short fiction has been anthologised often and various collections of his dark tales have appeared in print over the years. Just Behind You presents a massive selection of some of Campbell's stories (18, to be precise) published during the last seven years.

Having said all this, what can a humble reviewer add when confronted with the work of such an acclaimed icon of horror fiction? Very little, I think. I won't pretend to care for each single story but the quality volume is certainly - and predictably - impressive. Being entitled, as anybody else, to have some favourite tales, I'll mention only the stories that I've enjoyed especially regardless of the fact that they may be the most celebrated or not.

Fear The Dead is a fine psychological study of the effects exerted on a young boy by his grandma's death, while Unblinking is the masterful depiction of the gradual descent of an university teacher into the abyss of paranoia. In the disturbing Double Room, a widower experiences unnerving disturbances coming from the adjoining hotel room, whereas in Direct Line a man is tormented by a cell phone which seems to possess a life of its own.

A mobile phone is also involved in Breaking Up, a puzzling piece about a failed relationship now lost in the cold of a snowy evening. Skeleton Woods is a deeply unsettling tale featuring two quite different brothers whose lives are doomed and linked forever, Laid Down the brief but downright chilling portrait of a very difficult mother and son relationship, and the excellent One Copy Only at the same time a supernatural tale and a tribute of love to books and literature.

The superb Respects describes how the death of a young car thief chased by the police comes to affect an innocent bystander. My favourite tale remains, however, Digging Deep, a great story which already scared me stiff when first appeared in the anthology Phobic, where a man buried alive tries to get rescue by means of his cell phone, while an even worse nightmare is going to reach him.

Those willing to buy the slipcased edition of the book will be rewarded with a further piece which represents an additional treat: Safe Words, the surviving fragment of an aborted novel provisionally titled 'Spanked By Nuns'. The story portrays a depraved schoolteacher who gets the wrong idea about a pretty young colleague. Deliciously played on the chords of ambiguity and misunderstanding the story makes me regret that the novel never took shape.

Just Behind You by Ramsey Campbell



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