Book review: The Count of Eleven by Ramsey Campbell

rc_thecountThe Count of Eleven by Ramsey Campbell

[From Critical Wave #25, 1992. Published by Macdonald, both the original hardback and subsequent paperback edition areĀ currently available via Amazon.]

 

When Jack Orchard’s video shop is burned to the ground in a freak accident, his natural good humour persuades him to laugh it off — till he discovers the premises were uninsured. An obsessive numerologist, Orchard finally pins the blame for his ill-fortune on his failure to distribute a chain letter which arrived the morning before the fire.

Trouble is, the bad luck continues: Orchard is unable to find work after local gossips accuse him of arson, his teenage daughter is mugged, his wife is implicated in her employer’s fraud. Orchard’s analysis of the apparent failure of the chain letter is simple: those lucky souls he included on his mailing list failed to continue the chain, and the misfortune this should have earned them has unfairly rebounded upon the Orchard family.

It is at this point that The Count of Eleven, which opens as a broad black comedy (not to mention a platform for the author’s fascination with the cinema), begins to darken. Like Norman Bates in Robert Bloch’s Psycho (1959), Jack Orchard is transformed in the readers eyes from innocent victim to malevolent predator, metamorphosing into the vengeful ‘Count of Eleven’ and leaving a bloody trail of violent homicide in his wake.

Campbell’s latest novel (his eleventh, coincidentally) is something of a departure from his previous work, though the serial killer theme has echoes of 1979’s The Face That Must Die. Slapstick and sociopathic murder make for unusual bedfellows, and whilst the mix isn’t always successful, The Count of Eleven offers a refreshing change from the usual stalk ‘n’ slash formula.