You know: in a foolish, undiscriminating way, I've been happy these last few months. I don't know why. I just am. I love my friends; I love my pupils; I love what I read; I -- dammit -- love my thoughts. I love the taste of oranges.
Thornton Wilder in a letter to Gertrude Stein, Aug 14, 1936

Saturday, April 2, 2011


The Face That Must DieThe Face That Must Die by Ramsey Campbell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The psycho killer has a wonderfully Dickensian name, John Horridge -- horror and porridge, how British. He is limping about the streets of 1970's Liverpool possessed of a homophobia so intense and irrational that he convinces himself that an "obvious homosexual" he sees on the street is responsible for two brutal killings of what sound like young rent boys. After he finds his deceased father's old straight razor, he resolves to do something about getting this filth off the street.

Horridge is a very sick individual, and it is disconcerting to read in the Afterwards of this reprint edition that Campbell modeled the character on his own mother. In fact that, for me,  was the most unsettling moment in the book. Perhaps in 1979 the novel touched on more taboo topics than it seems to now, and the immersion into Horridge's mind is well handled; but, as he goes after his primary victim and then finds it necessary to do some clean up killing I found the whole enterprise mildly entertaining. And yet this book is listed as one of the best horror novels of all time.

The setup is Patricia Highsmith-lite. Innocent people meet a psychopath and they are either too stupid or too self-centered to grasp the situation. Campbell's novel is a potboiler compared to the ambiguities and sophistication HIghsmith brings to these situations. The novel has a kind of "uh-oh" moment at the end that presupposes the reader has found all the proceedings more frightening that I did. I am curious to read one of Campbell's supernatural books, of which there are many,  to see why he is so highly considered

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