“GOOD BOOKS ON THE HIGHWAY provided shelter; he closed out the lashing sleet and stood taking stock. On the shelves the current titles showed their faces while the others turned their backs. Girls were giggling over comic Christmas cards; an unshaven man was swept in on a flake-edged blast and halted, staring around uneasily. Strutt clucked his tongue; tramps shouldn’t be allowed in bookshops to soil the books. Glancing sideways to observe whether the man would bend back the covers or break the spines, Strutt moved among the shelves, but could not find what he sought. Chatting with the cashier, however, was an assistant who had praised Last Exit to Brooklyn to him when he had bought it last week, and had listened patiently to a list of Strutt’s recent reading, though he had not seemed to recognize the titles. Strutt approached him and inquired ‘Hello—any more exciting books this week?’
The man faced him, puzzled. ‘Any more—?’
‘You know, books like this?’ Strutt held up his polythene bag to show the grey Ultimate Press cover of THE CANING-MASTER by Hector Q.
‘Ah, no. I don’t think we have.’ He tapped his lip. ‘Except — Jean Genet?’
‘Who? Oh, you mean Jennet. No, thanks, he’s dull as ditch-water.’
‘Well, I’m sorry, sir, I’m afraid I can’t help you.’
‘Oh.’ Strutt felt rebuffed. The man seemed not to recognize him, or perhaps he was pretending. Strutt had met his kind before and had them mutely patronize his reading. He scanned the shelves again, but no cover caught his eye. At the door he furtively unbuttoned his shirt to protect his book still further, and a hand fell on his arm. Lined with grime, the hand slid down to his and touched his bag. Strutt shook it off angrily and confronted the tramp.
‘Wait a minute!’ the man hissed. ‘Are you after more books like that? I know where we can get some.’ ”
About the Author
Ramsey Campbell is a British writer considered by a number of critics to be one of the great masters of horror fiction. T. E. D. Klein has written that “Campbell reigns supreme in the field today,” while S. T. Joshi has said that “future generations will regard him as the leading horror writer of our generation, every bit the equal of Lovecraft or Blackwood.”
Says Campbell: “It can be argued that my timidity or at least my restraint is why I remain. I’ve never gone for broke and tried to write the most horrifying tale I can concoct, because I don’t quite see the point. To quote the critic David Aylward, as I very often do: ‘writers [of horror fiction], who used to strive for awe and achieve fear, now strive for fear and achieve only disgust’ – and it seems to me that too much straining for terror is wont to produce nothing more than a disgusting dump. If I can’t approach awe, I’d rather try for the other quality I value most in dark fiction, not exclusively in generic horror – a lingering disquiet. I may have felt that way ever since I first encountered Herman Melville’s ‘Bartleby’ in the 1957 anthology Best Horror Stories and didn’t feel cheated out of any of the pocket money I’d saved up to buy the book. Soon I found the quality in work such as the novels of Thomas Hinde and Samuel Beckett, not to mention films such as Last Year in Marienbad and Los Olvidados. I see no reason why fiction packaged as horror can’t achieve these effects of disturbance and dislocation. One definition of good art is that it makes you look again at things you’ve taken for granted, and that can certainly be true of horror.” Ramsey blogs at Ramsey Campbell.com.
About the Narrator
Paul S. Jenkins is a writer, podcaster and tech-enthusiast (and atheist and skeptic) lives and works in Hampshire, UK.