Author: Ramsey Campbell
Publisher: Virgin Books • 404 pages • £7.99
Don’t you just hate a smartass? Noted B-movie buff Ramsey Campbell namechecks everything from notorious video nasty Mardi Gras Massacre to the LA hardcore porn scene in his latest tome and, within the space of 400-odd pages, makes you feel like pop culture has swallowed your brain.
The Grin of the Dark spins a darkly satirical story about a shamed film critic called Simon Lester who, in a desperate attempt to earn some much-needed cash and recover his profile, agrees to write a book on an obscure silent-era comic called Tubby Thackeray. Upon taking up his research, however, he finds a network of obsessive fans – none more so than an online dweller called Slimemime, whom our hero begins to get into online flame wars with. However, what at first proves to be a bit of a laugh soon turns into something much more sinister as the reality of Thackeray’s power-from-beyond-the-grave becomes increasingly more evident.
This being a Ramsey Campbell novel, nothing is quite what it seems here and the old master manages one hell of a final twist, while also taking in some none-too-subtle digs at online critics. It makes you wonder if a negative web review rubbed the poor chap up the wrong way recently. Indeed, underneath its bleak and bloody front, The Grin of the Dark is an unashamed (and excellent) celebration of modern-day trash – from internet chatrooms to frantic eBay bidding on obscure old Z-flicks. It might not be as scary, or gruesome, as the author’s best known works but this is an intelligent and fleetingly hilarious little gem that will leave you grinning. Mission accomplished.