I first heard about Ramsey Campbell in King's essential nonfiction book, Danse Macabre. It led me to Campbell's The Doll Who Ate His Mother, and from there I went on to books like The Parasite, The Face That Must Die, and Incarnate. Ramsey Campbell became one of the writers I read whenever a new book was published.

The horror genre changed over the next several years. Louder, more abrasive fiction was being published. Splatterpunk, transgressive, the Dell/Abyss line of radical titles. My reading tastes changed along with it. Into the nineties I was more likely to read Edward Lee and Richard Laymon than Charles L. Grant. Or Ramsey Campbell.

Times continue to change. I have grown increasingly weary of endless over-the-top writing. I don't care to read about S&M dungeons, ever more disgusting violence, and bizarre situations. I've gone back to caring about subtlety. Atmosphere. Character.

Rather than believe I've grown wimpier as a reader, I like to think I have started putting more of my own brain works into the reading process. Utilizing my own imagination along with those of the writers. I've heard at least one author claim that imagination is his job, but I like more of a personal challenge.

Which brings me back to good old Ramsey Campbell.

I am shocked and disheartened to realize that I have not read a Campbell novel since, gulp, 1991. The Count of Eleven was the last full-length Campbell novel I had read. I have read some short stories here and there in anthologies.

I am so glad to remedy that shameful realization with Ramsey Campbell's latest novel, The Wise Friend.

Campbell teases his readers. Taunts them. His prose is hypnotic and paranoia-inducing. It's like taking a mild drug trip. Everyday items become sinister in his work. Horrors are often hinted at rather than slammed into readers.

The Wise Friend is a horror novel, and Ramsey makes no bones about his standing in the field. While some eschew the label of "horror writer", Campbell embraces it. Wears it like a badge of honor. I don't think any living author succeeds as well as he does in dealing with the occult.

In this novel a man whose aunt was a painter has committed suicide by leaping from a window. Or perhaps something more diabolical happened. Her later work turned darker as she began seeking out locations that may hold otherworldly presences. Years have passed, and the man's son becomes intrigued by the deceased artist's work and her journals. Accompanied by a beguiling young lady who shares an obsession with the painter, the family are led into a dreadful rabbit hole of preternatural horrors.

If you are looking for scenes of violence and action, The Wise Friend may not be for you. Some will find Campbell's work too abstruse. Others will find infinite rewards in the novel. It's scary, disorienting, and even very funny at times.

As I stated above, I've been away from Campbell's work for a long time, but The Wise Friend shows him to be at least as good as he was when I began reading him. If anything, Campbell has grown more mature and has honed his craft to perfection.

I will not wait long to read more of Ramsey Campbell's work. Since completing The Wise Friend I have ordered three, count 'em, three, more of his novels.

Written by Mark Sieber



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