The Doll Who
Ate His Mother
By Ramsey Campbell
The Doll Who Ate His Mother
was Ramsey Campbell's first novel. The story is set in his hometown of
Liverpool and the central character is a young schoolteacher called
In the first chapter Clare and her brother Rob are involved in a car
accident in the early hours of the morning and Rob dies at the scene.
The accident is caused when a strange man walks into the road in front
of Clare's vehicle. If the man is strange though, what he does is
stranger stilld because he runs off with Rob's severed arm.
Six weeks later, Clare returns from a visit to Rob's widow and finds
someone waiting on her doorstep. His name is Edmund Hall and he
believes that the man who caused Clare and Rob's accident did so
deliberately. He even knows the name of the man: Christopher Kelly.
Hall and Kelly were at school together and even as a child Kelly was a
strange and frightening individual. Hall, who is a successful
writer, now lives in Surrey, but when he heard about the
accident he returned to Liverpool, intending to write a book about the
man who killed Rob and his eventual capture. Hall plans to write the
book almost as it happens, but he does not want to share his
information with the police. He intends to pursue his own
investigations instead and, although he tells Clare that the police
won't want him tagging along and getting in their way, it is obvious
that Hall's real motive for keeping quiet is that he does not
want the police to steal any of the glory.
In order to force home his point about Kelly's macabre behaviour Hall
narrates a couple of incidents from his school days. One involves
Kelly's dreadful fascination for a dead cat. The other concerns what
Kelly did to the school bully, and Clare is sickened when she hears the
morbid details about Kelly locking his teeth onto the bully's arm, the
difficulties the masters had in getting Kelly to release his grip, and
then in forceing him to spit out the torn away flesh. Clare is appalled
by the tale but she still fails to see why Hall is so sure that it was
Kelly who caused the accident. "Don't you read the papers?" Hall asks
her. "Your crash wasn't the only thing. There was an old lady and her
dog, nearly four weeks ago."
Mrs Pugh's house was situated quite near to where Rob died. She lived
alone, but kept a bulldog for company. Their bodies were found together
in the living room. The Bulldog's skull had been destroyed by an
unfortunate encounter with a building brick, but at least its body
remained intact. Mrs Pugh had been partially eaten.
Edmund Hall is not a nice man. He is a manipulator and is willing to
use anyone to what he wants. With his skills being what they are it is
not long before Clare agrees to help, and people will obviously be more
sympathetic about talking to Clare than to him.
Once he has Clare onside Edmund is quick to use her to enlist the help
of Mrs Pugh's son, George, who is a nice guy and heartbroken about
his mother's death.
When the press gets wind of Hall's interest in the story that is news
in itself and it is not long before a third person also wants in on the
hunt. Chris Barrow turns up at Hall's hotel room and explains to the
writer that he believes the person he is looking for killed and snacked
on his cat.
Edmund takes an instant dislike to Barrow, probably because he was busy
trying to force his unwanted attentions onto Clare when Barrow knocked
at the door and, although he was getting nowhere, Chris'
arrival removed the opportunity of any further attempts.
Clare on the other hand likes Chris straight away. He is an actor and
seems to be quite sensitive, especially about his dead pet. Edmund may
have crashed and burned, but it is clear that Chris has set something
smouldering in the young schoolteacher's heart.
The brunt of this story concerns the hunt for Christopher Kelly. The
developing relationship between Clare and Chris makes an interesting
and diverting subplot. Before anyone can find Kelly though, they need
to find his grandmother, because she is the only person who might know
where he is. When they eventually do find Mrs Kelly, however, she has a
very strange tale to tell about her grandson's parentage and his
connection to an evil man, who practiced black magic and used dolls to
The Doll Who Ate
His Mother is 284 pages long and should you decide to read
it you will find a surprise or two hiding among all the shocks. It is a
dark, well written story and very descriptive. Campbell's
words painted some very vivid pictures in my head:
Huskinson the merchant [statue] stood on a pedestal, clutching his robe
glumly around him...'
'Around the high lamps, papery orange leaves were
tangled in bright branches like orange web...'
'Christ leapt from the wall of a church, tattered arms
clawing high, fleshless ribs blackened by the sodium light.'
The one about Christ is my favourite. I seem to remember seeing that
church on the TV, or perhaps I have driven past it; either way, I had
forgotten all about it, but that description brought it back.
The Doll Who Ate His Mother
is a horror story, but it is not nearly as gory as this review might
make it sound. Yes, somebody loses an arm and somebody else is so
thrilled to find it that they run off with it. And okay, it
is unpleasant to imagine someone looking at an old lady and
getting an attack of the munchies, but none of these things are
described in long, loving, gory detail. In the case of the old lady,
for instance, the man who caused her death is just about to climb back
out of the window, and has one foot on the sill, when he turns back and
looks at the body behind him. After a moment, he draws the curtains and
walks back across the room. And that's it. End of scene and end of
chapter. Tastefully done. The
Doll Who Ate His Mother is horror, but not over the top
horror. I can easily recommend the book to any horror fan,
along with any other reader who is broadminded and wants to add a
little variety to their fiction intake.