Clare Frayn is a school teacher whose life takes a turn for the worst when her brother is killed in a car crash whilst she is at the wheel. Feeling responsible for her sibling’s demise guilt gnaws away at Clare, but a more surreal aspect of the accident pushes this aside and at the same time draws the attention of a crime writer from London.
Soon, along with several others whose lives have been intertwined by an individual seen fleeing the site of the original car crash, a group of interested people forms and they begin following a line of investigations with its own shadowy inclinations.
The journey is kicked off and roams through Liverpool of the 1970s; its high-street shopping precincts, run-down housing estates, film houses and schools offer a great location in which the novel’s strands can unwind. Campbell’s books often encapsulate the period in which they’re written so well, and this one is no different. It’s a slow but enticing melting pot of plot threads and themes, in a novel made stronger by its mellow and subtle approach to its prose as it reaches a nonetheless spine-tingling end.
If you were to take The Doll Who Ate his Mother at face-value based on its title alone you might expect a gory, shocking and bloody ride of a novel. Granted, there is something of the macabre about the fellow who make’s off with Rob’s arm in the books opening. However, this book is much more subtle than the title, or that opening scene, alludes. Its strengths lie in excellent descriptions of the author’s native Liverpool, its landmarks and culture oozing from the pages, and a slow underlying horror-mystery creeping toward an impressive and carefully woven climax.
It’s a short but slow burning horror novel, beautifully descriptive at times. The book might also be described as being muted, compared to more gory, violence-charged and sexually prolific novels that litter the annals of horror fiction, but don’t let that put you off. The Doll Who Ate his Mother is a great read indeed and worthy addition to any horror aficionado’s library.
This was Campbell’s first novel, published in 1976 showing what promise lay ahead. Many more great horror books followed by Campbell’s pen, and will hopefully continue to follow.