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There's a reason why Ramsey Campbell is considered by many as one of the finest horror writers ever, and those reasons are alive and well in Leisure's latest release, "Creatures of the Pool". Brimming with a surreality found only in waking fever dreams, "Creatures" is an utterly enthralling, brooding tale about ancient secrets buried in deep, dark, wet places that only exist in memory and dreams...but still ooze upwards from their burial places to shape and mold the reality of what we've become.

Gavin Meadows' relatively comfortable life is thrown askew when his eccentric father disappears without a trace shortly after sharing some strange research ideas with Gavin, ideas that smack more of obsession than research. Apparently, his father felt that watery secrets lurked in the subterranean tunnels beneath Liverpool; secrets steeped in mystery, ancient rites and beings, covered up by modern authorities. At first, Gavin is worried chiefly about his father's sanity and wellbeing, and that's all.

However, as hours and days pass and Gavin - however reluctantly - finds himself increasingly drawn into his father's studies, things fall apart. Distracted, he mishandles his tour guide duties. That, and the legendary history stored in his head to spice up his tours has mixed with his father's theories, turning the world around him into a hallucinatory haze of dreams, half-thought ideas and vague conspiracies. He encounters insubstantial beings more rubbery than human, experiences watery glimpses of amoeboid creatures haunting his steps, and suddenly has cause to distrust everyone he knows or meets: the policemen searching for his father, strangers on the street...even his girlfriend, Lucinda.

What is she hiding at the local library? Why do the police seem unconcerned over his father's disappearance, vaguely threatening, even? And why does water trickle everywhere, and not normal water either but a thicker, viscous liquid teeming with a strange life that leaves even Gavin feeling bloated, misshapen...floating inside his body and head.

Campbell's masterful use of the first-person, present tense narrative puts readers directly into Gavin's head, making them subject to his increasing disorientation as the lines separating fact, reality, history, legend and race-memory fade and everything mixes together. There's the temptation to call this story intensely Lovecraftian, but doing so does Campbell a grave disservice. However much "Creatures" smacks of Lovecraft, it is Campbell's own. Better to call it a "Campbellian" tale, because though it instills a familiar dread, it belongs in a category all its own.
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on 15 May 2010
Creatures Of The Pool was originally published in 2009 by PS publishing but it's nice to see it getting a mass market paperback release from Leisure, even if many might come to it expecting a Swamp Thing rehash. I doubt if anyone reading a horror focused book review blog needs much of an introduction to Ramsey Campbell but just in case you stumbled onto this site by mistake all you need to know is that Ramsey Campbell is Britain's greatest living writer of horror.

Gavin Meadows runs historical ghost tours in his home town of Liverpool. His interest in the darker side of the city is shared with his eccentric father, Deryck who is pursuing his own quest to uncover a dark secret. When Deryck goes missing, Gavin picks up the trail of clues and it soon becomes clear his father was onto something but what that something was, is much less obvious. We follow Gavin as he tries to keep his work and relationships intact whilst, of course, trying to find his missing father.

Simple enough plot you might think but the plot and characters are almost secondary in this book. This is first and foremost a book about Liverpool, the whole book is filled with historical nuggets, references to songs and a deep, deep undercurrent of unsettling myth. It's the kind of book that has you looking twice at shadows or glimpsing over your shoulder to see what that movement was whilst reading.

Campbell's writing is like a fine wine, sure glug away and let it wash over you but take a moment to examine all the subtleties and you will be rewarded with a much richer experience. The writing makes full use of the third person narration to fully exploit the paranoia and sense of dread that pervades everything. The most mundane items take on a new significance in the eyes of somebody who doesn't understand what is going on but fears the worst (at one point I read a description of an antimacassar that I don't believe anybody but Campbell could have written).

Ramsey Campbell's prose seems to float on the page, you have to concentrate in order to bring it down to earth but once you do the wonderful depth can be appreciated. Casual readers can therefore often find his work difficult, I have even heard the word boring used and sure if you came here expecting an all action battle between brawny hero and swamp monster you will be disappointed. If instead, you are looking for something that will fill you with a deep sense of unease, something that turns a well known city into a darkly fascinating myth you will love this book.
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