Among the gifts I received from my wonderful wife this Christmas was Ramsey Campbell’s new novel, THIRTEEN DAYS BY SUNSET BEACH from P.S. Publishing. After all the holiday craziness finally slowed down, I managed to find the time to give it a read.
The story unfolds from the point of view of Ray, the aging patriarch of a family that’s taking a vacation together on a remote island in Greece called Vasilema. All the stresses of an extended vacation are explored, the rush to avoid missing their boat, the panic over misplaced passports, etc. Once they arrive on the island, Ray and his wife Sandra meet up with the rest of the family which brings along the struggles of how to keep a large group of disparate personalities unified and happy. Ray’s adult children and their spouses often disagree over their methods of dealing with each other and with their children. There’s also the trouble of interpreting the cultural differences of the locals who seem to be trying to subtly warn them against some hidden danger. Ray and his wife are withholding a sombre secret of their own from everyone.
Mutual harmony is threatened by more than just interpersonal conflicts however, after the group notices a pair of gaunt strangers observing them from a distance. Later, Sandra and some of the children begin to experience physical changes, and there are hints that some elusive force may be slipping into their hotel rooms at night. Sunset Beach itself turns out to be a strangely quiet place during the day, but they are repeatedly warned against going there after nightfall when it becomes loud and active. Add to this a grizzly discovery made inside a cave off the beach, the ominous words and actions of the locals, and the family’s unsettling exploration of a deserted old monastery cloaked in darkness and surrounded by dead trees, and soon Ray’s convinced they are being stalked by some ancient evil that resides on the island.
I very much enjoyed THIRTEEN DAYS BY SUNSET BEACH. Ramsey’s ability to convey the persistent impression that terrible things are slinking just beneath the surface of normal, everyday life is masterfully on display here, presented in such a way whereas you understand why the characters experiencing these events don’t take off screaming back to the safety of their homes. The protagonists struggle with holding onto the plausible explanations for everything they’re experiencing or give into accepting their less-plausible, supernatural alternatives. At only 224 pages, this tale of quiet terror set on an exotic resort island is another classic by a true master of the genre.
Review by Matt Cowan