Review: Thirteen Days by Sunset Beach by Ramsey Campbell

Thirteen Days by Sunset Beach_Ramsey Campbell.jpg
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Family vacations weren't something I looked forward to as a kid. My parents had this weird idea that going out of state to visit malls was somehow a vacation, and so many summers as a youth were spent in various cities, sitting in various chairs inside various Nordstrom's, Sax Fifth Avenue's, and Ann Taylor's, bored out of my mind and either staring off into space trying not to drool on myself, or whiling away too many hours reading while my mother leisurely scoured the clothing racks for the same discounted articles she could have bought at home.

Spending Thirteen Days by Sunset Beach felt rather similar to the family vacations of my childhood. A whole lot of time was spent doing a whole lot of nothing, trying not to drool on myself as my mind wandered, wishing I was somewhere else, doing something else.

Ramsey Campbell is a fine writer; he's won the Lifetime World Fantasy and Bram Stoker Awards, the Grand Master Award of the World Horror Convention, and the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Horror Writers Association. He has an impressive bibliography, make no mistake, and I would be sorely mistaken to besmirch his talents as a professional author. I must admit, however, that Thirteen Days by Sunset Beach is simply not for me.

I'm a bit of an introvert (ha, "a bit." Yeah, right.) and family drama is just one of the many various reasons I have for avoiding as many family get-togethers as I can. Thirteen Days is all about the family drama, although it has some minor, barely-there paranormal aspects that Campbell plays around with, giving us hints of and peeks at. I'm also not one for slow-burn horror stories. Yes, I dig good, three dimensional characters, but I also like my gore and unrelenting terror. I like it fast and dirty, and Campbell plays it slow and clean, far too much so for my tastes.

I found too much of this book to be plodding and excruciating, hoping that each of its next too-long chapters might finally posit an actual event or occurrence. Every time Campbell peels back the curtain, such as during the family's visit to the ruins of a monastery, and I think, "Aha! Finally, we're getting somewhere! Some action, some monsters, something!" the curtain limply and unceremoniously falls back into place. There's no energy here, no tension, no suspense, and worst of all, absolutely no surprises. The horror element, if one can call it that, is about as old and recycled as they come, and the secret reason for this family vacation to Greece will be suspected instantaneously by readers despite how many chapters Campbell drags it out for. Sadly, Thirteen Days never rises above being simply mundane.

While there are interesting thoughts on aging and dying, and the local legends of the island of Vasilema, and the various possibilities of extending one's life in exchange for certain sacrifices, none of it has any real weight and certainly no payoff, particularly in light of how prolonged it all is. We're treated to two or three scenes that demonstrate some real potential for chills and the promise of a better story, and no sooner than that are we whisked away to a trip to another beach, another bus ride, a supermarket, or a taverna to eavesdrop on this family and their arguments over tips, parenting styles, and more than a few dashes of ethnocentrism from the arrogant and insufferable Julian. Dear lord, how many pages and hours I spent waiting and hoping for Julian to meet his grisly end in savagely satisfying ways...

For me, thirteen days is simply too long to spend with this family, and now that our trip together is finally over I'm grateful to be going our separate ways.

[Note: I received an advanced reading copy of this title from the publisher, Flame Tree Press.]

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Michael Patrick Hicks

Michael Patrick Hicks is the author of the science fiction novels Convergence, an Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2013 Quarter-Finalist, and Emergence. His work has appeared in several anthologies, and he has written for the websites Graphic Novel Reporter and Audiobook Reviewer. In between compulsively buying books and adding titles that he does not have time for to his Netflix queue, he is hard at work on his next story.

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