Film editor Sandy Allan works for London Metropolitan Television with colleague and good friend Graham Nolan. Graham has undertaken a search to find a missing film print of a fabled 1930′s horror film that has never been shown, and about which there had been doubts as to its existence. There’s also been cloaked rumour and intrigue surrounding the movie, its director, cast and crew, which adds to its pedigree of mystery.
Excitement has been building for a while, as after all the film had starred horror legends Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff, and Sandy is invited to private screening at Graham’s flat. However, tragedy befalls her friend when he falls from a nearby building moments before they are to watch an ultra-rare print of the movie that he has somehow been able to secure. That same print disappears once more, being taken from his flat whilst the calamity surrounding his death ensued.
Sandy resolves to track down the film, motivated in part by a hack of a film critic who questions the validity of Graham’s quest for a film which he says never existed. The journey is a troubling one, beset by the horrifying circumstances that prompted it, and then by a slow unravelling of troubling information, circumstances and a dreadful understanding that Sandy builds in regards to the object of her undertaking.
As she talks to those who have had links to the film, fear, uncertainty, ignorance and veiled threats become apparent. The stakes increase, and it’s soon that not just one death may be linked with this film, but potentially many others.
This novel was mostly a lot of fun to read. Campbell is a highly competent horror author who builds suspense and lays down atmosphere well for his reader. His ability to tie narrative to a time, a place, and then weave around it people and atmosphere, even in the most casual of settings, is so skilful it’s intimidating. The plot thread regarding the movie is genuinely interesting, and added a real zest to much of the book.
However, once it started to get going, and the mysteries slowly began to unravel in relation to why the film may have been suppressed I found the plot to have become a little clouded. There was also a diversion toward the last quarter of the book which I felt really jarred an awesome momentum that Campbell had done such a good job building earlier on.
There are some great characters, some interesting ideas which are matured well through the course of the novel, and its often a beautifully written horror story with genuinely furtive and threatening moments lurking in the background. Though the prose is tight and the story great to a point, I found the ending quite anti-climactic.
Campbell knows how to write horror, well actually he knows how to write full stop, and his words are beautifully rendered at times. He know this genre so very well, and that’s clear enough, but the ending of this book really left me unsatisfied in comparison to the strengths exhibited at other times throughout.
Nonetheless, given the merits of the book’s strengths versus its weaknesses, I’d say that it’s worth a read, even if you’re not a fan of the genre.