- The Wise Friend.
- Ramsey Campbell.
- 288 pages.
- Horror / Supernatural Thriller.
- My Rating: Hellyeah Book Review.
Patrick Torrington’s aunt Thelma was a successful artist whose late work turned towards the occult. While staying with her in his teens he found evidence that she used to visit magical sites. As an adult he discovers her journal of her explorations, and his teenage son Roy becomes fascinated too. His experiences at the sites scare Patrick away from them, but Roy carries on the search, together with his new girlfriend. Can Patrick convince his son that his increasingly terrible suspicions are real, or will what they’ve helped to rouse take a new hold on the world?
I received a free copy of this book courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Before her mysterious death, Thelma Torrington was a famous surrealist painter. Her nephew, Patrick Semple, spent a lot of time with her and his uncle when he was a teenager, staying over and walking the unsettling woods and footpaths behind the house with Thelma. Years later, his own teenage son, Roy discovers Thelma’s old journal gathering dust, forgotten in his father’s study. Patrick has always been intrigued by his aunts work and that has been passed down from father to son and soon, so is Roy.
Thelma, unlike Patrick’s parents who saw the world in black and white, saw more. She saw the magic in things, the otherworldy, she saw in colour and was always able to use her imagination, picture what she saw in her mind and then paint it. But, in her later career, the inspiration seemed to dry up and she started visiting places to stimulate her. The journal documents the places that she visited, listing their names alongside pictures and annotations on the pages.
Roy and Patrick have a tenuous relationship. Patrick and his wife divorced many years ago and Roy is a rather surly teenager. One thing, however that they have in common is their fascination with Thelma’s work. With nothing else to do and at Roy’s request, they visit the wood behind the house where she lived, the place where she died and then, they visit an exhibition of her work. Whilst at the exhibition, they meet Bella, who befriends Roy.
Bella, herself has a keen interest in Thelma and her work. Roy and Bella become closer and Roy, like there is an unseen force exerting a pull over him starts to become obsessed with learning more about Thelma and the places that she visited. The duo, casting Patrick aside who is reticent to visit the places and who has an ominous feeling about the locations start visiting the places that Thelma mentions in her journal, exploring them, hoping to find why they were important to her, what significance they hold, trying to see what she saw in the world, walking the same paths as her, following in her footsteps and taking the same journey that she did. Places, that have links to the occult, that are tainted by the dark arts, that are restless and places where darkness has taken hold and arcane power still lingers.
It took me a little while to get into The Wise Friend and I was unsure about the book, thinking that, while there was nothing wrong with it that, simply, it might not be for me. I struggled with the writing, to begin with, that is rather dry and I wasn’t connecting with the characters either. But, my attention was engaged and I was curious as to how the story would play out and so, I continued. Then, my persistence paid off and as the darkness unfurled and began burrowing under my skin everything seemed to fall into place. I was rewarded for pushing through my initial apprehension with what turned into an insidious story that is full of creeping unease, that is unnerving and that will have you feeling like you are being watched. That will have you jumping at shadows as you sense that there is a malign presence lurking just outside of your line of sight, glimpsed on the fringes of your vision, encroaching upon, waiting and observing you.
The Wise Friend is written in the first-person from the perspective of Patrick. The writing is descriptive and detailed. The Story is haunting and simmers with some twists and is deliberately paced with a satisfying conclusion. The absolute highlight of The Wise Friend, for me, was the exceptional use of baleful and macabre yet under-stated imagery on display by Campbell. Imagery that is visceral of the mind, that created a sense of place and that evoked a malicious intent and a malevolent and oppressive air to the locations visited in Thelma’s journal, amongst other unsettling scenes and that, genuinely spooked me.
Pre-order The Wise Friend by Ramsey Campbell released on April 23rd, 2020.
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