A couple of months later, popular exploitative true-crime writer Edmund Hall contacts Clare for help in researching his latest book, "Satan's Cannibal," about the man he is certain was responsible for Clare's brother's death. When a young boy, Hall went to school in Clare's Liverpool neighborhood with a creepy kid named Christopher Kelly. Kelly was a ghoul, who eagerly attacked and ate living small animals - and even badly scared the school bully, by nearly biting off his nose.
Clare and Edmund play amateur detective, with a few friends, to track Kelly down. Of course, with that much attention coming his way, it can't be too long before Kelly turns the tables, and comes looking for them...
This was Ramsey Campbell's first novel, and it still reads quite well. It's more a crime story than anything else, sort of an odd and eerie "day in the life" of an unsettled and unsettling shadow-crawler of a man. Balancing the psychological and possible supernatural aspects is what makes Campbell's story so compelling - that, and his fascinating characterization of a truly bizarre criminal.
The book reads like a good episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, and is surprisingly mature for this kind of material. It may well have partly inspired Thomas Harris' more famous Hannibal Lecter novels, Red Dragon especially - though it isn't quite as good, just along similar lines.
Campbell supposedly attempted to create a new type of horror story here. It's certainly unique; I know of no other writer I could compare Campbell to in terms of his writing style. The monster here, though, is basically just a cannibalistic, irrational killer of the type we have seen before. I grant you the story starts out promisingly, with Clare Frayn's brother Rob being killed in an accident and having his arm taken from the scene by an unknown young man. Clare, by the way, has a disturbing bevy of emotional problems all her own. Then a writer comes to town with the idea of writing a book on this "cannibal," claiming to have known him back in school. He, Clare, a fellow whose mother was a victim of the killer, and a weird actor who says his cat was killed (and presumably eaten) by the killer set out to find him. This task is made much easier by the fact that the writer knows who it is (based on some pretty shotty evidence, I say). The only gripping part of the narrative, in my opinion, comes when the group locates the killer's grandmother and hears from her lips some of the details of the psycho's birth. The identity of the monster comes as no surprise whatsoever, and the conclusion is basically just weird. Personally, I just don't see a lot of merit in this novel, and it fails to produce any kind of monster different from what I have seen before-it's just harder to see through Campbell's murky prose.
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