I rarely ever pre-order books. I make an exception, however, whenever there’s a new one by Ramsey Campbell. Ramsey’s most recent release is his novel The Wise Friend published by Flame Tree Press.
Patrick Semple is a divorced teacher who shares custody of his teenaged son. He also has a strained, yet cordial relationship with his ex-wife. This story begins following the recent death of Patrick’s aunt Thelma whose death came about under strange circumstances. She fell from the top of a vacant building in a dangerous area. Why she was there and what caused her fall are initially unknown. Thelma was a talented artist whose evocative paintings adorned the covers of several classic books. Her interest in the occult was reflected in her art which always contained a shadowy figure hidden in the landscapes she painted. While he was still a teenager staying at her house, Patrick discovered she’d been traveling to various locations which she believed to be magical in nature to collect samples of the earth in jars.
Shortly after the funeral, Patrick’s son Roy becomes interested in learning more about Thelma and coaxes his dad to take him to a gallery that’s exhibiting some of her paintings. While there, they meet a girl roughly Roy’s age named Bela who’s a huge fan of Thelma and her paintings. The two of them hit it off immediately and soon begin dating. They spend all their time researching Thelma’s life and attempting to locate and travel to the magical places she painted.
Despite her friendliness, Patrick becomes concerned about Bela’s influence on his son and their shared obsession with investigating Thelma and her travels. He ends up conducting his own investigation of Thelma’s occult past. Patrick’s quest to learn more about Bela begins to strain his relationship with his son as well as brining down the ire of his ex-wife as they question his motives in complicating his son’s new love interest.
This is a fantastic novel! At numerous points in the story I felt a glorious chill run down my spine as Patrick’s research uncovered disturbing revelations. I found myself pleasantly reminded of another favorite Campbell novel of mine in The Kind Folk. They tell different stories of course, but I felt they would pair well together in a shared universe sort of way. There are nods to some other Campbell novels mentioned in the book as well, The Darkest Part of the Woods for one, as well as a masterfully chilling reference to Hungry Moon, which filled me with glee. It’s only a couple sentences, but it’s very ominous. I loved following along with Patrick’s investigations into his aunt’s occult interests which take him to library archives, on the road to obscure forests locations, and more. His exploration of an abandoned hotel is flat-out amazing! Then there’s the final third of the book when the cosmic horror ramps up even more as Patrick finds himself dealing with a supernatural force he has no idea how to handle. If you love folk horror intertwined with cosmic horror, mingled with a touch of the surreal, you’ll love this The Wise Friend. Believe me, Ramsey is at his full power with this one!
Reviewed by Matt Cowan