cover image Ghosts and Grisly Things

Ghosts and Grisly Things

Ramsey Campbell. Tor Books, $24.95 (320pp) ISBN 978-0-312-86758-4

Although he has devoted most of the past decade to novel-length works of dark fantasy and suspense (Silent Children, Forecasts, June 26, etc.), Campbell's short stories continue to shape and expand the vocabulary of horror fiction. This collection of 20 talesDhis first full-length compilation since the World Fantasy Award-winning Alone with the Horrors (1993)Druns the gamut from psychological to physical horror, and conjures nightmares from the most unlikely raw material. In ""Going Under,"" an inconsiderate cell-phone user on a charity walk is engulfed by the sea of participants that his self-important antics annoy. One of the most original vampire stories in recent years, ""The Dead Must Die,"" presents a religious fanatic convinced that family members who don't subscribe to his fundamentalist beliefs are undead creatures deserving of the gory salvation he dispenses. In tale after tale, Campbell shows himself to be a prose craftsman who can use words to render a dangerously distressed viewpoint or evoke indescribable horrors by carefully detailing what they are not. It is not surprising, then, that in the darkly comic ""McGonagall in the Head,"" words themselves are a source of horror for a newspaper obit writer driven insane by the sappy doggerel he must quote from the bereaved. The most powerful stories are those where characters confront specters that summarize the mediocrity of their lives: a creepy elevator attendant who forms an attachment to the manager of a failing movie theater in ""Between the Floors"" and a ghostly driver who threatens an aging, childless couple in ""The Sneering."" The thick, claustrophobic atmosphere of these selections intensifies their terrors and pulls the reader ineluctably into their shadowed corners. (Oct.)