Creatures of the Pool
Paperback, 336 pages, $7.99
Review by Sheila Merritt
Slithering, frog like entities invade Liverpool in Ramsey Campbell’s atmospheric Creatures of the Pool. Are they merely mental aberrations of a skittish, overwrought tour guide? Or reptilian remnants from another era? The past and present mysteriously converge, as history and hysteria collide. The novel gnaws at the nerves as it grinds at the psyche of the first person narrator. This masterfully executed character study doesn’t skimp on external terror. The creepy creatures of the title are seductive slime for the mind; they will stick in the reader’s memory in a deliriously unpleasant way.
Gavin Meadows, the book’s protagonist, is a beleaguered man. His macabre oriented “Liverghoul Tours” of the city are not going well, and his eccentric father is missing. There are confrontations at every turn, as Gavin butts heads with the police, the district library, and his employer. Even his girlfriend, the lovely Lucinda, seems different to him. Then there’s the deluge to contend with: An abnormal amount of rain is transforming “The Pool,” as the town is known, into a soggy bogged down mess. The wetness seeps into buildings; the dampness penetrating and invasive.
Author Campbell saturates his images with fluidity and flair. He enhances the aquatic atmosphere with rain drops that linger and extend beyond a normal length. The squishy element is also very well played: In touch, sound, and sight; the quaggy quality permeates the ambience.
The denseness of the prose demands savoring. It is intricate and involving; much detail and delving into local geography and folklore. Brilliantly, the author manages to make a large city seem claustrophobic and confining. He accomplishes this in part by the amphibious aura of the environs; “The Pool” as a pond. Mostly, however, it is the tortured Gavin, seeing his world turning against him; grasping at the truth and gasping for air, that takes the breath away.
Ramsey Campbell is one of the icons of horror. He is the recipient of many awards and has had lots of lofty titles bestowed upon him. In Creatures of the Pool, he reaffirms that the accolades are justified. The novel leaves a trace residue; a trickle of something slickly pervasive and profoundly unsettling.