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 With two short stories in the school magazine and an unpublished novel under her belt, Charlotte’s intention was to be a writer and Ellen, as in later life, was renowned for her caring nature.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 affect 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 became 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 in Thieving Fear 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 the 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 reveal 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!
Thieving Fear is 319 pages long and although I would be surprised if I ever felt the desire to read it again. It will never make my top-ten list of horror novels, but 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 them. However, if Thieving Fear does not sound like your kind of horror story, I can highly reccomend Campbell’s first novel, The Doll Who Ate His Mother.