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The Grin of the Dark by Ramsey Campbell
Cover Artist: Jupiter Images/CSA Images
Review by Christine Kimmel
Tor Books Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765319395
Date: 08 July 2008 List Price $25.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

On the face of it, The Grin of the Dark author Ramsey Campbell appears to be merely employing one of the golden rules of the Horror genre: When in doubt, send in the clowns. However, while some Horror masters simply resort to this rule as a cure for writer's block, Campbell utilizes the time-honored scary-clown tradition to explore the fascinating connection between academia and insanity.

British film critic Simon Lester wants to revive his career—and who can blame him? Working at a gas station post- academic superstardom is hardly a move up in the world—especially in the eyes of his professionally successful girlfriend, Natalie, her son, Mark, and her parents, Bebe and Warren. When Simon's former editor, Rufus, proposes that he transform one of his published film articles into a full-fledged novel, Simon seizes the opportunity, thus diving headlong into the troublesome career of 1910's comedian Thackeray Lane, a.k.a. Tubby.

What happened to good old Tubby, the clown whose antics supposedly caused spectators to die laughing? While Simon and Mark investigate Thackeray Lane's dark history via the internet and their local library, it becomes apparent that Tubby was, indeed, no ordinary clown. When every furtive whisper begins to sound like a giggle and every suggestive smile appears to be slathered in greasepaint, Simon concludes that it may be time to cease research and move back into the realm of reality—but he can't; he's simply having too much fun clowning around online. For example:

Dissect the word harbinger into har binger which could be a misspelling of har de har bringer, which means "bringer of laughter." Or how about happenstance, which could be ha ppen stance or the pen's dance har de har har? Or what about terrorize? Terrorize is the same as ter or ize which actually means tear her eyes, tear em right out har de har har? Or how about . . .
And so it goes, until what begins as an innocent academic activity degenerates into a perverse string of fatal jests . . . and somehow good old Tubby is behind it all . . . Tubby, or Simon?

Whoever the killer is, one thing's for certain: he's grinning.

Literary Formula:
2/3 cup Stephen King's It + 1/3 cup Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House.

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