The Searching Dead
Flame Tree Press (February 16, 2021)
Reviewed by Ray Palen
Originally released in the UK back in 2016, publisher Flame Tree Press will be releasing all three titles in this trilogy as part of their Fiction Without Frontiers campaign. THE SEARCHING DEAD is the first installment in the trilogy, and may also be one of the most effectively frightening novels that horror master Ramsey Campbell has ever penned.
Somewhere around the year 1863, a work of the occult called Revelations of Glaaki, Volume 9, On the Uses of the Dead proposed that ‘What the dead behold, they may become.’ The action of THE SEARCHING DEAD is set in 1952 in a small village outside of London, and our protagonist is a young schoolboy by the name of Dominic Sheldrake. During the course of this year, Dominic and his two best friends are going to experience a coming-of-age that they never could have predicted in their wildest imaginations. The window in Dominic’s room gives him a great view of the Liverpool cemetery known as Anfield. It is what he first spies there that will begin the nightmare that will haunt him for the rest of this novel and throughout the action of this unsettling trilogy.
It begins with the spooky ramblings of their elderly neighbor, Mrs. Norris, who recently lost her husband. They had joined a new church not long before his passing, and Mrs. Norris claims that the head of their church can bring back the dead to those who have lost loved ones…and perhaps a bit more. Dominic’s parents palm this off as the grief she is suffering from. However, Dominic swears he sees a tall, lanky male figure pushing a child’s pram through Anfield Cemetery. He is doubly shocked when the person he thinks he saw ends up being not only his homeroom teacher Mr. Noble at his new school, Holy Ghost, but also the fact that the very same Mr. Noble is the head of the church Mrs. Norris goes to.
For the rest of the school year and beyond, Dominic and his best mate and school chum, Jim, will be enthralled with uncovering the secret of the creepy Mr. Noble. Dominic even meets Mr. Noble’s infant daughter, Tina, as well as his willowing wife. A particularly surreal and frightening event takes place when Mr. Noble’s father gives a lecture at their school and his discussion quickly runs off the rails with references to corpses, graves, rats, and speaking to the dead. For Dominic and Jim, it helps to support the suspicions they already had about their teacher.
Dominic has an eerie experience when going to pick up and walk Mrs. Norris’ dog, as he swears he hears a voice in her house that sounds like a demented sort of version of her late husband. When the neighborhood begins whispering tales about Mr. Noble raising the dead at his church, things really get serious. It will all lead to a finale that will find Dominic, Jim, and their female pal Bobby sneaking into this mysterious church one night. What they will find within the basement will haunt their dreams forever.
I will not spoil the fun here, but encourage fans of Mr. Campbell and great horror to dive into THE SEARCHING DEAD as soon as you can. He is at the top of his game with this novel, and it mixes the innocence of childhood with the darkest horror in such a way that you will find yourself still thinking about this story long after you have put the book down—let alone, looking at your neighbors in perhaps a slightly different way…