Many good writers could have made a decent thriller out of this plot: After his murders are discovered, a crazy child killer fakes death. Successfully disguised, he returns even more demented than ever and soon two more children disappear. In the hands of Ramsey Campbell, however, these bare bones of plot are magnificently fleshed out into a masterpiece of psychological terror. There are moments of suspense that literally sent my pulse racing and caused my breath to catch. If Campbell can do that to a jaded old horror reviewer like me, well...
Part of the genius lies in Campbell's ability to contrive and covey convincing characters. Leslie Ames, a divorced mum who works in a music shop, is practical, caring, sexy, maternal, and altogether believable. Her son, Ian, is an adolescent male with all the complexities, misfortunes, loneliness, and hope inherent in the age. They decide to move back into their home in the London suburb of Wembley, a domicile they deserted when the body of a little girl was discovered buried under the concrete of a remodeled kitchen floor. The murderer, a contractor named Hector Woollie, knowing this crime and other child-murders had been discovered, has supposedly drowned himself.
Although the child's body is long gone, lurid press coverage -- written by wheelchair-bound reporter Verity Drew (a minor, but well-drawn character) -- has turned the house into a "house of horror" they can not sell. Jack Lamb, an American horror writer enters their lives as a boarder and supplies a romantic spark for Leslie as well as a strong male role model for Ian. Jack's novels inspire the boy to try his hand at horror writing. (An activity that just leads to more grief for Ian.)
But we have a monster drawing nigh. Like all monsters, Woollie never sees himself in that role. He simply loves children and can't stand to see them abused by their parents. Woollie merely sings them to sleep, you see, to give them permanent peace.
We never sympathize with Woollie, but we begin to see his point of view. That in itself is, of course, terrifying. Lamb is a horror writer who, for reasons we learn in the course of the book, questions whether he himself is innately evil. (At a climactic point, the villain murmurs, "Like horror do you? I'll show you horror.") In the case of Leslie and Ian, the world begins to condemn them as monsters, even though they are the victims. Is the world more horrific than the monsters it creates? Is fictional horror somehow as harmful as real horror? Can situations implicate us in evil? Is anyone truly innocent? As with most of his work, Campbell asks higher questions and delves into deeper levels: ultimately, that's what sets the master writer above the hack.
SILENT CHILDREN is half gone by the time anyone is put in real physical jeopardy. When it happens, the victim is Charlotte, the daughter of Ian's father's new wife Hilene. (More multidimensional supporting characters.) She goes missing and Ian stumbles upon her and her captor. He must use all his wits and considerable imagination to try to keep them both alive. Another cliche? Not with Campbell. There are no comic-book heroics here. Just real kids in real danger and suspense so thick you can smell it. And in the end? As one character discovers: "Life wasn't a story unless you made it into one." Which is just what Campbell does, and does so magnificently.
Any artist will tell you there are seven colors of the spectrum. A physicist, however, will explain there are only six colors in the spectrum. Indigo does not exist. Look for it. You'll find blues and violets. Where is the fugitive color? Maybe it DOES exist, but can only be seen if you know how to look for it. Graham Joyce takes this idea and turns it into a fascinatingly original dark surrealistic fantasy thriller. (Try putting that label on a spine.)
Jack Chambers, an ex-bobby who now is a London process server, travels to Chicago to execute his father's will. Wealthy, manipulative, eccentric, and hated by his son, Tim Chambers has left a manuscript, INVISIBILITY, A MANUAL OF LIGHT, that Jack must publish. The paternal Chambers believed indigo exists -- as a color, a door of perception, and the pathway to invisibility; his book is a guide to finding it.
Jack will be well-rewarded for his execution of this and other provisions of the will, but the most of the estate will go to his half-sister, Louise, and a mysterious artist, Natalie Shearer. Jack is immediately incestuously attracted to Louise and the sexual tension is intense. They eventually travel to Rome in order to find Natalie and sell a house there. When Louise returns to Chicago, Natalie -- an ex-lover of Tim's -- relieves Jack's pent-up libidinal frustration as they enter into an odd affair dominated by the search for indigo. Murder and further intrigue intrude as well.
Joyce provides the entire self-training manual and it's convincing enough that readers will find themselves wondering if they, too, can discover the fugitive indigo. Will Jack find it? Are there invisible forces at work? Will forbidden love become acceptable for the sibling soul mates? INDIGO, propelled by its rich atmosphere rather than action, is as seductive and beguiling as its premise.
The year is 1825 and 110-year-old Mae Johnson, the offspring of a Caucasian trapper and the only daughter of a Hopi snakepriest, makes a deal with the devil that gives her eight additional lives. Not that they are particularly happy or long lives. After all, we are dealing with the Dark One here.
She first becomes Rachel, a young woman who died in childbirth in 1691 and winds up involved in the Salem witch trials. Myra, a murdered black woman in 1943 Louisiana is her next life and Mae/Myra and she's possessed by the need to find her own murderer
Navarro bogs down a bit when she takes Mae into her next two lives/deaths involving vampires in the year 1585. As Nathan Carter, a black man in 1961, Mae must deal with racism then is reborn in the same year as a white racist. Next stop is in the body of Will, a twenty-something 1986 Chicago yuppie afflicted with AIDS. Her eighth life is that of a murdered L.A.street whore, Perdita.
As long as you can accept deals with demons, Indian curses, and that a woman born in the wilderness in 1715 can instantly adapt to such varied situations, DEADTIMES is a entertaining read. Mae, in whatever personification, faces the dark cruelty humans inflict on one another time and again and Navarro effectively conveys that horror. Only when she leaves this motif and introduces melodramatic pseudo-medieval supernatural evil does she falter. Otherwise, it is a genuine page-turner.