The Face That Must Die by Ramsey Campbell
**** Centipede press 312 pages
I suppose I would have to file this under a classic I was long over due to read. It has been many years since I last read a Ramsey Campbell novel( I read Count of Eleven probably fifteen years ago). I have read lots of wonderful short stories over those years and not sure what took so long to get back to reading one of his novels.
If you don’t know Ramsey Campbell is novelist and film critic who is considered one of the greatest living British(or otherwise) horror novelists of all time. With good reason, many consider this novel to be his ultimate classic.
Poppy Brite the author of my all-time favorite serial killer horror novel (Exquisite Corpse) introduced a new edition of this novel. Peter Straub (Ghost Story) said it was one of his favorite horror novels. David Morrell (First Blood) and Whitley Strieber (Wolfen) blurbed it and if that was not enough the paperback I read had an introduction from Psycho author Robert Bloch.
Sold yet? That should be enough but if not I’ll tell you my opinion on this psycho-killer horror novel classic. If that is your type of novel, you must read it. The Face that Must die comes with a thirty plus pages forward that really is amazing. It comes across as brutally honest and opened hearted explanation of what events Campbell’s life led to him writing this novel from the ultra-paranoid point of view of the killer.
I feel like a jerk even suggesting the notion, but is it possible that Campbell is pulling our chain, adding additional story telling device in the form of a gut wrenching forward where he pours out his heart?
It is all told with such an open mirror cast on Campbell I felt that he was being brutally honest. In the end I would say this part was worth the read on it’s own. Once in the story we are introduced to Horridge a paranoid character who doesn’t even admit to himself that he is a killer. Driven by homophobia and homesexual panic he becomes entangled with a group of young Liverpool professionals who all live in the same building.
Of course they don’t know that he is involved in their lives, as he stalks their gay neighbor, and blames his own violence on others. Campbell is a master at the level of paranoid narrative and might even match some of Phil K. Dick’s deepest and most powerful delusions. A lot of the suspense is built off of watching helplessly as the delusions deepen, We see the trainwreck ahead but understand nothing can stop it. Standard moments of suspense pepper the story, but the strength of the novel is found in Horridge’s mind. In that sense it’s fitting that Bloch wrote the introduction as the novel resembles Psycho in it’s source of terror. It’s a trip into the killer’s mind. If that sounds interesting, and it should you should read this classic.