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The front cover for Ramsay Campbell's Ancient Images. The cover is blue with some old-fashioned film reels in the bottom left hand corner and the faint image of a skull on the right.

Ancient Images by Ramsay Campbell

Ancient Images by Ramsay Campbell from @flametresspress #BookReview #Horror

Ancient Images by Ramsay Campbell

Flame Tree Press, pb, £8.75

Reviewed by Sarah Deeming

The front cover for Ramsay Campbell's Ancient Images. The cover is blue with some old-fashioned film reels in the bottom left hand corner and the faint image of a skull on the right.

When a film historian dies after supposedly locating a copy of a mythical film starring Karloff and Lugosi, his friend, Sandy, sets about finding the film and proving her friend wasn’t mad. But no one wants to talk about it because they believe the film was cursed as numerous crew members, including the director, died. Investigating rumours and hints and wading through an ever-increasing body count, Sandy discovers the film could be in the hands of a wealthy, titled family who lives in a perfect paradise of farm fertility and financial security. Can Sandy uncover the film’s secret and that of the family, protecting it before anyone else is killed?

Ancient Images is a re-release of a book originally released in 1989, which is important contextual information for placing this book in time and attitude. I didn’t have this information when I started reading, so the homophobic and casual sexism towards women caught me off-guard. Once I was armed with the original release date knowledge, I enjoyed the story more. It is a story of its time, capturing the attitudes of a moment and showing how far we’ve come, or haven’t, in our understanding of people different to ourselves.

Ancient Images is a tour of the horror scene in the late 80s, the fans and detractors, the snobbery within the film critic community, and the underhand tactics used by the press to get a story. The story is based on a horror film that has mythical status starring Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. The film had such bad luck on set and upset so many people that it was never released, and all the copies were hidden. Sandy’s friend, Graham, is a film historian who has made it his life’s mission to find this film; only once he does, he falls from a rooftop and dies. Sandy feels there’s more to Graham’s death than suicide and sets out to find the film.

I found the pacing quite slow, and some elements didn’t make sense until the end; however, Ramsay Campbell is a master storyteller, so I entrusted myself to his narrative and wasn’t disappointed. The gradual build of tension and suspense gave way to Once I had finished Ancient Images, the more I thought about it, the more I realised how everything was connected. From the graphic opening scene to the travelling community known as Enoch’s Army, it all served a purpose within the narrative, and I appreciated the tightness of the storytelling. There was no unnecessary padding (well, perhaps we could have done without the sex scene, but it isn’t very long, so we’ll gloss over that), and every character served a purpose, even if they were a red herring.

This is not the first re-issue of Ancient Images, and it is easy to understand why. With tight storytelling and a wealth of interesting characters, it is bound to find fans with a new audience.

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