By The Light Of My Skull by Ramsey Campbell. Book review

By The Light Of My Skull by Ramsey Campbell, Illustration by JKPotter, PS Publishing, H/B £20.00

Reviewed by H T Scott

By The Light Of  My Skull is a collection of Ramsey Campbell’s short stories, with wonderful illustrations from JK Potter.. All of the stories in this collection have been previously published in anthologies along with other authors. You may have read a few of them before but in my opinion they are well worth a re-read. The fifteen short stories in this collection will affect you. The temptation for me to read the whole book as fast as possible was only stayed because I wanted to give each story a chance to replay in my mind and really think about the implications of each storyline. I read one a day and I can honestly say that every single one of these stories will stay with me for various reasons.

In the retelling of a fairy tale, Find My Name, a grandmother is protecting her grandson from a voice on the baby monitor. Left to care for him as a result of her daughters death, Doreen is alone in her fears as her husband is away at work. Ignoring the signs the menacing voice leaves her, she finds excuses for them. That is until her Grandson tells her about the man in his room, the man with all the teeth. Doreen is forced to accept a pact her dead daughter made.

Childhood dramas take on a twisted turn in The Moons. The innocence of childhood and believing all adults are good, is tested by a misfit little boy, Stuart. Having been forced by his mother to call round to a friends house,he finds himself joining an expedition to find the bracelet of one of the younger girls. After being followed by a gang of boys, the group tries to get away by taking an unknown coastal path. Now disorientated they decide to ask for help in the form of a ranger, so surely he must be ok.Stuart feels that there is something ‘wrong’ with this trusted adult and is reluctant to go along.The ranger leads them down a path, which Stuart will remember with a guilty feeling for years to come.

By far my favorite tale was The Wrong Game, I found myself hoping that this had some real back story. In the afterward Ramsey Campbell confirmed that it was based on an item of returned mail from the dead letter office.

When the writer receives two playing cards in the post addressed to Roland Malleson he is perplexed as to why. It’s not him, he doesn’t know this person. Upon further investigation and a telephone conversation he finds that Roland has passed away. Then his memory is jogged and he starts to recall a meeting with Roland.

What I loved about this story in particular was it’s realisticness. That we have all had those moments when someone tells a story we’ve been part of but you have no memory of it, until another event triggers it.

I felt that all of the stories in this collection play on the readers sense of fear of the unknown. Whether that fear is braving a haunted house, getting old and forgetting loved ones or just the way things play on our minds because something is not quite right. Ramsey Campbell does unsettling in such a furtive way that it is psychological . His talent is making his reader scared without being overtly gruesome. He is an absolute master at this because, as we all know our own minds take us down the darkest paths, these stories are just the catalyst. A very definite must read.