An ebook novella from DarkFuse, Lurker (2013) is a Lovecraftian story in the tradition of Ramsey Campbell; elegantly understated, intensely atmospheric and superbly horrific. Set in Whitby on the Yorkshire coast, the story follows Meg, a woman who has just moved into the area after suffering a tragic miscarriage. While her husband works long hours in the city, Meg is free to roam her new environs.
And roam she does. Discovering the entrance to an abandoned mine, she unknowingly attracts the attention of the titular lurker. The next day, the wall of her house outside her bedroom window is decorated with muddy handprints. A girl is reported to have gone missing near the mine, and Meg thinks she glimpses something in the background of the newspaper photo. A dodgy pamphlet found in the library purports to explain it all, but its talk of some immortal creature from beyond the stars that cut off miners' hands and heads so it could use them as tools is just crazytalk, right? And all the while Meg is also tormented by suspicions of her husband's possible infidelity.
Is it all in her mind? There's a strong psychological aspect to the story, giving room for interpretations. And it's only Meg who seems to be aware of the creature, not at all unlike the poor narrator of Guy de Maupassant's classic story Le Horla. All the events in Lurker are seen and experienced through Meg's perspective, and who knows how twisted that might be, after all the stress and insecurity the character's been through.
That, however, doesn't stop the story from going the tentacular full monty in the glorious finale; imagined or not, it's all about pure, unadulterated horror of the cosmic variety, blasting away what little sanity poor Meg may have left at that point. As a horror story, Lurker delivers the goods, regardless of the interpretation. Highly recommended.
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Back in the old days when there was still magic in the world, the fairy folk used to improve their diminishing bloodline by exchanging their offspring with human children. In The Kind Folk (2012), the fairies are corrupt shadows of their mythological selves, but the practice of changelings continues.
When a DNA test shows his biological parents aren't somehow his, Luke is understandably mystified. Luke's uncle, Terry, who was strangely attached to Luke, may know something, but dies before divulging any facts. However, in Terry's house Luke discovers a semi-incoherent diary tracking the uncle's travels throughout Britain, as well as a carving of a strange, barely human face.
Suddenly Luke, an up-and-coming comedian known for his skilful mimicry, starts to get gigs around Britain, in places that happen to correspond with the diary. And soon there are strange folk appearing at his shows, always standing in the back, twisting their hands in unnatural positions, as if signalling some secret sign. They seem to want something, and as it happens, Luke's girlfriend Sophie is pregnant.
The Kind Folk is Campbell at his very best; it's built on a solid mythological foundation that's familiar enough to feel real. The silent, elongated shadows are classic Campbell, creatures that always appear in the distance, half-glimpsed, so that they could be just ordinary youths loitering around – at least until they scurry away on all four limbs or some other craziness.
There's also the humour, as usual, striking a perfect balance with the horror; almost every sentence feels like a wound-up jack-in-the-box, ready to be sprung on the reader with a twist that might turn everything that came before it on its head. The relatively short length of the novel is just right; the narrative is rich, but nothing is overextended. Every chapter is in its right place.
And as Luke's journey progresses, the atmosphere goes up a notch or two. The dark city streets, the ruins of abandoned houses, the lonely places of the world where something old still lingers – the night is deep and dark and full of scares, but there's also a lot of beauty in these shadowy, almost wistful passages.
The novel ends with a perfect note of awe and wonder, as another generation steps forward. The fairies might've retreated back into the shadows, but with books like The Kind Folk, there's still plenty of magic left in the world.