The Booking is a novella by Ramsey Campbell published in 2016 by Dark Regions Press as the third book of their Black Labrinth imprint.
The story follows Kiefer, a young man who accepts a position at a bookstore called BOOKS ARE LIFE which is located in a remote section of the city. His desperate need for the job causes him to ignore the many eccentricities of his new boss Brookes. Brookes hires Kiefer to catalogue and post all the store’s merchandise for online sale despite the man’s mistrust of technology and the internet. Brookes refuses to allow Kiefer to activate his phone or computer’s cameras while inside the store as he believes it allows insidious things access to the minds of those near it when on. He also insists on handling all the store’s physical transactions personally. Kiefer soon begins to notice how books which have been sold somehow reappear on the shelves soon after they’ve left the store. The place also seems to change from time-to-time, seemingly birthing more book-filled hallways and rooms. Is something strange going on inside BOOKS ARE LIFE, or is it all in Kiefer’s mind?
As always with Campbell, the wordplay, primarily that of Brookes, does double-duty, hiding subtext within each comment or phrase, feeding into the ever-present paranoia of the place. The chills unfold very subtly here, and it wasn’t until the books finale that I found myself rethinking everything which had happened up to that point. While I can’t place this beside my most favorite Campbell books (Incarnate, The Grin of the Dark, Ancient Images, Hungry Moon, The Kind Folk, etc.), I still enjoyed it, particularly since it’s about something I really love… Books! I also loved the cover and interior artwork by Santiago Caruso throughout, which was very evocative.
Artwork by Santiago Caruso