Fiction Reviews

The Way of the Worm

(2022) Ramsey Campbell, Flame Tree Press, £9.95 / Can$19.95 / US$14.95, pbk, ii + 279pp, ISBN 978-1-787-58761-8


The present. The cult that has been growing since The Searching Dead now operates openly throughout the world. Their leader, Christian Noble, is almost a century old and inhumanly vital. Dominic Sheldrake joins the cult and learns their secret of travelling through time, but only to be faced with the monstrous future the cult is invoking…

The Way of the Worm is the final book in Ramsey Campbell’s 'Three Births of Daoloth' trilogy, following on from book one, The Searching Dead, and book two Born to the Dark and continues the mission/quest/obsession of Dominic Sheldrake against Christian Noble and the cult he has created, and like the previous two books, Dominic is helped by the other two member of The Tremendous Three – namely, his childhood friends Jim, now a retired police officer, and Bobby, a successful writer, and a bit of a thorn in a lot of people’s sides.

Dominic hasn’t had an easy life, but maybe that’s his fault, and this third novel opens to find him mourning the death of his wife, Lesley and not getting on with his son, Toby, who has now married and has a daughter. Even worse, Toby and his family have joined a church led by Christian Noble – the Church of the Eternal Three, run by Christian, Tina and Toph. Reluctantly, Dominic goes to a church service and is given an icon which gives him disturbing visions of the future. The Nobles are calling themselves LeBon, but that’s not much of a disguise and easy for Dominic to see through. He is concerned about the rise of Noble’s church and his family’s involvement, but they are unconcerned, giving rise to tension and awkwardness between Dominic and his son. Dominic needs evidence and manages to record a church service on his phone and a conversation afterwards which ends up being the basis for an article by Bobby and the Nobles being arrested for incest, thus upping the stakes and the animosity between The Tremendous Three and the Nobles.

The Way of the Worm is written in a way that readers could come to this novel as a standalone, not having read the previous two books, as there is sufficient backstory for new readers to learn what has led to this final book, although it would be a real shame to miss out on some of Campbell’s best writing in terms of world-building (especially in the first book involving post-war Liverpool and the youthful exploits of The Tremendous Three), characterisation, and downright feelings of dread and horror. Like the two previous books, Campbell shows his mastery of narrative drive and ups the tension and the horror, particularly towards the end of the novel with standout scenes involving Dominic and his encounters with the Nobles and the forces they serve. This is a novel of contrasts with scenes of mundane, domestic events balancing the scenes of supernatural horror where Dominic almost feels overwhelmed by the forces he is fighting against. Apart from parts of the first book, when Dominic was a boy, he has always been an abrasive, combative character rubbing up against family and friends and colleagues. He’s always felt misunderstood, with a chip on his shoulder, which makes him all the more real as he tries to protect his family and possibly the world, against the occult machinations of the Nobles, and the rise of Daoloth, the Render of the Veils.  Recommended.

Ian Hunter


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