By Ramsey Campbell
Ten years ago they
were teenagers and went camping on Thurstaston Common: There
were four of them: Hugh, who wanted to be a teacher; Rory his brother,
who dreamed of a career in art; and their two cousins Ellen and
Charlotte. With two short stories in the school magazine and an
unpublished novel under her belt, Charlotte's intention was to be a
writer and Ellen, as in later life, was renowned for her caring nature.
Something strange happened to the teens that night and though they did
not know it at the time it would later effect all of their lives.
Charlotte's experience was easily the worst. She heard someone calling
her in the night and left her tent to investigate. She found a trap
door in the turf, with something ominous beneath it. At the time she
put the experience down to a dream and told her cousins that she had
been sleepwalking and though none of them made a fuss about it at the
time each of her cousins had also had bad dreams.
Now the cousins are grown and their lives are not at all as they had
hoped. Hugh had a breakdown, lost his teaching job, and took a job in a
local supermarket, stacking shelves and doing other menial tasks under
the oppressive supervision of a moron named Justin, who took the credit
for Hugh's work and got promoted above him. His lack of job
satisfaction is fast becoming the least of Hugh's worries though,
because he is losing his sense of direction and he keeps getting lost.
Even in places that he knows very well such as his own street.
Rory fulfilled his dream and bacame an artist, but Rory's work is
proving to be very controversial and his talents are less than
appreciated. Like Hugh though, Rory has other problems. At times he
finds himself alienated from all of his senses, and if you think about
it that is quite a scary predicament for him to be in because we all
experience the world through our senses and without them we would be in
a dark, silent and very lonely place.
Charlotte never made it as a writer but is a successful editor. She is
happy enough in her job, but is plagued by feelings of claustrophobia.
Ellen, on the other hand, has lost her job in a care home and is
pursuing literary ambitions of her own, which look like they might pay
off, especially with Charlotte's help. Ellen's main problem in life is
her self esteem and she is not at all happy with the way she looks.
All four characters also share a common problem: they feel that they
are being watched by someone they cannot see. Someone who is
very thin and smells of earth.
It took me quite a while to get into this story and overall I did not
enjoy Thieving Fear
as much as some of Ramsey Campbell's other books. Towards the end of
the book though, I found the story more appealing; especially the
scenes where Charlotte discovers the truth about what is hidden
underneath the common. I was quite surprised by what it was and the
events that occur underneath he common are, in my opinion, easily the
most creepy in the book. Even my goosebumps had goosebumps.
I think one of the main reasons I found it so difficult to
enjoy the earlier chapters of Thieving
Fear is because I found it hard to identify with or care
about any of the main characters; although I must admit I
found Ellen to be the most interesting cousin and, towards the middle
of the book, when certain aspects of her condition are revealed, I got
a big surprise. I won't spoil your possible enjoyment of the story,
should you decide to read it yourself, by revealing what happened, but
I can honestly say that I never saw it coming and I bet most readers
will be in the same boat. Very clever!
Fear is 319 pages long and although I would be surprised
if I ever felt the desire to read it again, and it will never make my
top-ten list of horror novels, I enjoyed the last part of the book more
than enough to compensate for the length of time it took me to develop
any real interest in the tale. If I were to give the book marks out of
ten I would probably only give it a five, but I am sure that there will
be other readers who will enjoy it more. Maybe be you will be one of