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Ramsey Campbell, Probably

edited by ST Joshi,
introduction by Douglas E Winter

(PS Publishing, £30/$45, 441 pages, signed limited edition trade paperback, also available as signed limited edition hardback priced £65/$90, published September 2002.)

If generosity were a sin, Ramsey Campbell would be burning on a rood soaked in cover scanparaffin for evermore. Not that he would take his sentence alone. As an accessory before the fact, I suppose I would also be due for punishment of my own: I have looked forward to every publication -- to its generosity, its muscular thinking, its frights -- since I first discovered England's best horror author in my late teens. I admire his work, and frequently take astonishment breaks: those seconds of profound wish fulfilment, in which one realises that it couldn't have been phrased any better than that, and that no other writer would have executed the task in the same way.

I was delighted to receive, handed over, my copy of Ramsey Campbell, Probably. If I owe my co-diners at the time an apology for ignoring them for minutes as I gorged on a few articles in this book of non-fiction, then I duly doff my hat and wipe the smile from my face. But I'm sure they would understand. I opened at random at Campbell's review of Shaun Hutson's Heathen: a brilliantly sustained piece of piss-taking satire on the author, written in that author's traditional style. Then I read a more favourable (and therefore surprising) reappraisal of the work of James Herbert. Throughout, Campbell's intelligence and perception is addictive.

Other writers, of course, come in for specific attention: Stephen King, Dennis Etchison, Peter Straub ... not to mention a few names that I had long since allowed to drift from the moorings: Jeter, Brite, Hudson, Howard, Kane ... But the subject studies, as fascinating as they are, are but a part of this powerful, gutsy work. Although Campbell knows everyone in the horror field, or at least knows the work, I found at least an equal amount of pleasure in reading about his thoughts on more plucky matters. The reviews and character studies -- which are certainly beautifully, funnily written -- tell as all we need to know about other people.

I liked just as much the studies of more disparate subjects: for instance, I loved Campbell's look into the world of spanking movies, the world of Mary Whitehouse (a now-deceased purveyor of family values in the arts), and the world of horror films -- good and bad. Let me give you -- for the sake of salivation -- a few titles in Part One of ... Probably alone: 'The Crime of Horror', 'A Horror Writer's Lexicon' (which again exhibits Campbell's fine sense of wit), and 'To the Next Generation'.

And no, I will not explain the title. Discovering that is one of the reasons for reading this excellent book. Ignore the fuck-you price-tag and the terrible cover; hope to God for a stronger spine than my own copy had; and save up. The enthusiasm is contagious; even a sceptic cannot remain inoculated against the man's humour, his energy, his verbal plumpness, verve, his dexterity and bravado.

This book is the finest piece of non-fiction horror that I have read. It is heartily commended. With all of the above, plus the reprinted intros and outros to his own work, there is something for anyone with any interest in the genre.

Review by David Mathew

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