Ramsey Campbell has an enviable reputation as a writer of fine, modern horror stories. His many writing awards include: ‘Grand Master Award of the World Horror Convention’ and ‘Lifetime Achievement Award of the Horror Writers Association’.
His writing is subtle: horrors possibly lurking, murkily and imaginatively in the undergrowth, work powerfully on the suggestible mind. It is the reader’s imagination that, once aroused, sets itself into perturbed motion.
Deep feelings and awkward, yet caring relationships inform the plot, that revolves around the narrator’s aunt, Thelma. She was a painter of some reputation, whose fate is the catalyst for an unravelling. The possibilities are endlessly disturbing and the tension tightens, rack like, every time the narrator uncovers hidden aspects of his aunt’s history. He begins to understand that his aunt’s enigmatic paintings as indicative of a mystery, that his son feels the need to explore. Thelma’s eccentric behaviour and interest in the occult inform her paintings. This leads father and son on a quest, that is fraught with peculiar dangers.
There is an account of a place called Halfway Halt, that had me, step for unsteady step, teetering alongside the narrator. I had a perfect visual image, so that I might almost think afterwards that I had actually visited such a place. The precarious descent into a railway cutting was my favourite descriptive piece in the novel.
For me the power of the novel rests in the exploration of the depth of affection and love, between father and son. Altruism features, and misunderstandings abound. This makes for painful reading that has its own power to disturb. There is a resoluteness about the father that reminded me of Shakespeare’s wonderful Sonnet 116: “Love is not love which alters it when alteration finds, or bends with the remover to remove: O no! It is an ever fixed mark that looks on tempests and is never shaken.”
Enjoy this absorbing novel for the quality of the writing and for the way it works on the imagination.
Whenever he isn’t writing another of his award-winning novels, one of Campbell’s pastimes is finding and completing ever more difficult and complex jigsaw puzzles. In ‘The Wise Friend’ he has produced a puzzle which, when the readers see the last piece fall in place, will leave them shocked and horrified and waiting for his next book to take them on another journey into the darkness.
Related read: His & Hers Reviews: The Closer You Get by Mary Torjussen.