What mysteries lurk within the shadows of a struggling second hand bookshop?
This very clever ninety page novella published by Dark Regions Press and illustrated by Santiago Caruso, recently surfacing on kindle is a very enjoyable psychological thriller horror which provided excellent company for almost three hours the other evening. “The Booking” is also available in various signed versions directly from Dark Regions Press, but the near £4.00 on kindle is by far the most agreeable price.
There are a few online reviews for this novella kicking around which, in my opinion anyway, give away just a bit too much of the plot. So I’m going to provide you with the basics and encourage you to read a nifty little story which is best devoured in one sitting. So this is Campbell in psychological mode, don’t expect any monsters or demons, with almost all of this tale taking place within the claustrophobic confines a very crusty old bookshop called ‘Books of Life’ which lurks way off the beaten path, down an obscure side-street where customers seem unlikely ever to discover. The shop itself is a fantastic and atmospheric creation and breathes an added dimension into the story, in many ways ‘Books of Life’ is a character within the story itself…. Indeed, I wouldn’t mind a browse around it myself....
Kiefer (only ever known by this one name) is an unemployed librarian desperate to find a job, who stumbles upon an advert ‘BOOKSHOP REQUIRED TECHNICIAN’ and phones the shop and talks to the owner who we only ever know as Brookes. Finding the shop, Kiefer is shocked by the random mess and disorganisation around the premises, following a rather cryptic conversation with the owner Brookes, he is hired to effectively create a website and put the content of the bookshop online. Worried that the salary will be terrible, they strike a deal and everything they sell will be split down the middle 50/50 and profits shared. Kiefer finds little or no organisation in the shop, books don’t seem to be arranged by either author or subject, but he begins to find his feet. Much of the novella follows the banter and sniping between the two men and I would urge you to read this very closely as Campbell throws lots of clues into the direction the plot is heading via the dialogue.
Kiefer also spends time talking to a woman called Cynthia who we presume is his girlfriend, this is done via his laptop and much of the time Cynthia’s face glitches in mid conversation. When he loses a key to Cynthia’s house, as she is out of town, things go from bad to worse before he ends up staying in a spare room at ‘Books of Life’. When living on the premises cataloguing the books and putting them online becomes much more than a nine to five job, Kiefer loves it. Amazingly customers do begin to buy the books online and Brookes pops out now and again to the post office giving Kiefer the opportunity to explore the shop further and have the odd weird interaction with customers.
Strangely and crucially Brookes never seems particularly keen to sell his books and why when a book is sold does it seem to reappear in the shop the following day? Does he really have two copies of everything? Brookes is also a huge technophobe so why does he want his stock online at all? And why do the upstairs stock rooms seem to go on and on forever? Everything is very subtle, Campbell throws breadcrumbs here and there, the reader knows something is not right in the bookshop, but what is it? That’s the fun of it all. As I said it’s more psychological than anything else and although not especially scary there really are shops like this out there and horror fans like you and I love to poke around in them. Campbell really nails Kiefer as an ex-librarian, who lives and breathes books, who even though working at ‘Books of Life’ doesn’t promise much of a living, he is working with books and that is what matters.
Ramsey Campbell has his own unique style and his huge shadow continues to influence the next generation of British horror writers, so it’s great to see him continuing to produce top-rate work after all these decades which compares favourably to his best work. I’ve always been a huge fan of his novels, especially those in which the reader if never quite sure what is real, “The Grin in the Dark” is a great example. Although Campbell has written a few novellas, he’s much better known for his novels and short stories, so I will be very interested to see how frequently he returns to the novella as “The Booking” really whets the appetite.
From world renowned 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. 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 that 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 bookstore is very unique, like its owner, and it will bring to Kiefer the most intense and revealing era of his life. From master storyteller Ramsey Campbell comes this brooding and frightening psychological horror novella accompanied by five original color illustrations by Santiago Caruso