The Wise Friend by Ramsey Campbell may very well turn out to be Campbell’s magnum opus. On the surface it appears to be a marvelous, mystical tale of cosmic horror, one that evokes inexplicable evil up from deep beneath the earth, into the ordinary world of a broken, English family.
“It’s those beneath the earth that feed off your energy.”
While young, Patrick, the father, was tainted by a brush with evil as he visited his beloved aunt Thelma, a famous artist who experimented with the unfathomable. Thelma later realizes her mistake and tries to extricate herself from her quest for buried mysteries and arcane knowledge. Unfortunately, she had already gone too far.
After her funeral, Patrick and his son Roy become fascinated with her journal, one that “smells of the earth.” The most intriguing element of the journal is a list of sacred sites. As they begin to read, the nearby “Railway station’s voice turned female, warning listeners to be aware of suspicious items.” This oblique warning does not dissuade them from developing an obsession that leads them on a perilous journey of exploration—to discover the mysteries of Thelma’s sites—to attempt to understand who Aunt Thelma really was and how she died.
While visiting an art museum to view Thelma’s works, Patrick and his son Roy meet a young woman, Bella, who is wise beyond her years-an old soul. Soon, she insinuates herself into their lives, creating friction between Patrick, a protective and sensitive father, and Julia, a mother who allows her prejudice against Patrick to prevent her from properly safeguarding her son. Before long, Roy becomes enchanted.
Ultimately, it is up to Patrick to solve the mystery of the journal and the sites in order to defend his son and determine the cause of mysterious deaths.
“If you don’t go where other people won’t,
you’ll never see what’s to be seen.”
Campbell wisely chose a first person point of view that draws readers into the mind of Patrick, thus clearly revealing his motivations and drawing readers close, urging them to care for him and his son. This choice also offers an accurate understanding of Patrick’s volatile family dynamics.
All the characters are unique, believable, and authentically flawed. They stay true to their nature in behavior and thought and will resonate in readers minds long after their literary adventure is complete.
It could be said that the most interesting feature of the novel might be the possibility that Campbell speaks through his characters, revealing ominous truths only he has long understood. Dialogue that hints at long-buried secrets reminiscent of Lovecraft’s old ones appear when least expected. Tantalizing chapters titles add to the mystery.
Campbell’s prose is easy to read, vivid, and detailed without excess. He creates a visual, palpable world where readers will gladly take up residence. There is ominous magic on every single page. Repeated mention of the railway hints at the symbolic nature of rail travel as compared to the journey of those who are spellbound by evil. Once travelers board a train, they relinquish control, as do all who fly too close to the flame.
In the Wise Friend, Campbell does not keep readers waiting. The mystery begins immediately. Readers who dislike long introductions will appreciate this quality of Campbell’s highly complex and intertwined plot. The author preserves the tension by dropping subtle whiffs of mystery all along the journey and including numerous plot twists and surprises.
The Wise Friend comes very highly recommended. It is a true masterpiece of cosmic fiction that will leave readers spellbound and compelled to read and read again in search of more covert hints at long buried mysteries of eternal, sinister entities who slumber serenely and wait for us to draw too close—to fall under their spell.
The Wise Friend will leave vigilant readers spellbound, haunted by many disquieting, unanswered questions.
Can anyone ever truly win the battle with sinister evil, and who will become the next wise friend? It could be anyone, even the next reader.
Magic resides on every page. Alphonse is spellbound.
Book Title: The Wise Friend
Book Author: Ramsey Campbell
Book Format: Paperback
Publisher: Flame Tree Press