Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Doll Who Ate His Mother, by Ramsey Campbell

(hb; 1976)


Clare Frayn, a responsible twenty-something school teacher, is driving her slightly-younger, wilder brother (Rob) home late one night, when a man darts in front of her car, causing her to crash her car. Clare's brother is killed; not only that, his severed arm is taken by the shadow-man, who disappears immediately after the crash.

Clare discovers who the shadow-man is, when she begins, without police help, investigating the shadow man's past: he's Christopher Kelly, a young thief and murderer, with a tragic and supernatural childhood, and a predilection for cannibalism.

Clare is aided in her investigation by an opportunistic, self-important crime writer (Edmund Hall, a former childhood classmate of Kelly's), George Pugh (a middle-aged cinema owner whose mother was murdered by Kelly), and Chris Barrow (an actor whose cat was killed and partially eaten by Kelly).

This is an off-beat, low-key, and creepy novel. The characters, most of them oddly charming, are amateurs -- and quite lucky -- when it comes to finding their killer. The pacing is less psycho-thriller than real life; the nasty horrific bits, which punctuate the story with sharp regularity, utilize restrained-but-vivid imagery and taboo subject matter (cannibalism, black magic, matricide) to deliver its shocks.

Worthwhile, strange read.

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