Campbell, Ramsey. Holes for Faces. Dark Regions Press (May 7, 2013).Since this review is appearing on Innsmouth Free Press, I think it’s appropriate to begin it like this: I came to Ramsey Campbell by way of H.P. Lovecraft and the expanded world of the “Cthulhu Mythos.” Like many authors both before and after him, Mr. Campbell began his wonderful world of horror and dread by building upon the fiction of H.P.L. After I read Campbell’s take on Mythos horror, he quickly became my most favorite author of the stuff, right after Lovecraft himself, and that led me to reading many of his non-Lovecraftian horror tales. Reading all of those made me a Campbell fan for life, so when I heard that this book was coming out, a collection of 14 of his most recent short stories, I was a happy fanboy indeed. But the question is – was I still happy upon finishing this book?
Yes, but sadly, I wasn’t overjoyed. Now, to be sure, these are all fine stories and there’s not a stinker in the bunch. However, most of them have a thread of sameness running through them that was very noticeable after reading only a few. That is perhaps my biggest gripe with Holes for Faces: not enough diversity in the mix for me. A second and minor complaint is the complete lack of any new stories featuring Campbell’s take on Cthulhu/Lovecraftian/Weird ficiton. Now, that really wasn’t a surprise, as Mr. Campbell has largely moved on to other things and only very rarely, if ever, returns to his Mythos-haunted Severn Valley for a visit. But that doesn’t mean I don’t miss his unique take on cosmic horror and wish for a return of it. That small, shattered hope aside, I do not want to give the impression that this was a bad book. Only that, for me, it wasn’t a great one.
Well, enough with what could have or should have been. Let’s talk about what Holes for Faces is and that is a collection of short story reprints of Mr. Campbell’s running back a number of years. The sole exception appears to be the titular story, which is new. All of the stories have classic elements of Campbell in them. Like all of his work, they focus much more on mood and well-written characters than shock or gore. Many of these tales seem to be about the fear of growing old and all the quiet terrors that entails. There are numerous ones that would be classified as ghost stories of one shade or another. It definitely read to me like an author trying to come to terms with his own mortality. Thankfully, Mr. Campbell has always been an expert wordsmith with a great imagination, so he spins such dark musings into horror lovers’ delights.
Personal favorites of mine included “The Decorations,” a very somber piece about a child and his family facing the grimness of a grandmother’s advancing years and failing health, set against the normally joyful backdrop of Christmas. While this tale is a prime example of the sameness I had mentioned earlier, it was just so well-written that I fell in love with it.
Other favorites of mine are the few stories where Mr. Campbell went off in different directions. Because of that, they really stood out. With “Chucky Comes to Liverpool,” Ramsey Campbell once again takes a look at film and how it affects us, as he spins a great yarn about a crusading mother waging a war against the Child’s Play movies. Yes, those Child’s Play movies.
“The Rounds” is a bit of a modern conspiracy thriller about a man trying to stop a terrorist plot. “Getting It Wrong” features a game show where being wrong can be very dangerous. There are more good stories to be found here, for sure, but they did start to blend together after a while. Then again, I ripped through this book in a single setting. I did mention that I’m a Ramsey Campbell fanboy, right? So, maybe, if you pace yourself with Holes for Faces and read a few stories here and there, you’ll enjoy this book more than I did.
Can I recommend Holes for Faces? Yes, it’s Ramsey Campbell, and therefore, mandatory reading for all lovers of fright fiction. I can’t fault the individual stories here, just the collection as a whole. A bit more variety would have made for a truly great book. Instead, you end up with just a good one here. And you know what? I am fine with that.
You can buy Holes for Faces directly from Dark Regions Press.