"The Wise Friend" Book Review

Written by Stuart D. Monroe

Published by Flame Tree Press

the wise friend ramsey campbell poster large

Written by Ramsey Campbell
2020, 256 pages, Fiction
Released on April 23rd, 2020


I have a confession to make in regard to the icon that is Ramsey Campbell (“Britain’s most respected living horror writer” -The Oxford Companion to English Literature). I devoured everything he wrote in the early part of his career – The Doll Who Ate His Mother, The Parasite, and Incarnate were my absolute favorites (I even have a signed first edition of the latter). Aside from The Overnight in 2004, however, I’ve not read any of his work published past 1985. We all go through phases in our reading, and I drifted away from Ramsey Campbell almost completely as an adult.

After reading The Wise Friend, I want to slap the piss out of myself for letting that happen. Suffice to say, he’s just worked his way back into the rotation with a vengeance.

Patrick Torrington was always a little obsessed with the paintings of his late Aunt Thelma. She was known for her nature scenes that concealed strange occult figures in the shadows. They were powerful works that awakened ancient voices within. Aunt Thelma was a mystery herself – after leaving her husband and taking up with a strange man named Abel, her work grew increasingly bizarre until her fall from a tall building when Patrick was still a teen. Now Patrick is a divorced father with a son named Roy. The two are digging into Thelma’s old diary, retracing her steps and trying to see what she saw. A mysterious and alluring fan named Bella turns up at a showing of Thelma’s work, and Roy is soon smitten. Patrick is more than a bit smitten himself, at first…until Bella begins to show that she’s not who she appears to be and knows far more than she should. Who is Bella? What is Bella? What did Aunt Thelma discover in those ancient places? Patrick may have to derail his entire life to find the truth and save those he loves.

Ramsey Campbell is a throwback of the highest order, the kind of author that gives you horror that peeks at you from the shadows and makes you glad that you’re not seeing the whole thing. His work (at least the ones I’ve read) is loaded with intelligent dialogue and minimalist action that you have to slow down and take your time to read. He’s not a “quick read”, nor is he for those who want the nastiness spoon-fed into their drooling maws. I’ve always thought of him as the British equivalent of H.P. Lovecraft. Some people just won’t get him, but if you do, you won’t be able to get him out of your damn head!

The Wise Friend is an extremely patient book that will frustrate you a bit at first with its slow start. The first third (the discovery portion) is reminiscent of the quieter parts of Clive Barker’s classic, Weaveworld. Campbell’s mastery of the English language gives power to the descriptions in such a way that your mind’s eye can’t close even when it wants to. By the time the confrontation and strife start, you’re shifted over to the personal conflict and it’s almost a shock to realize how concerned you are for Patrick and Roy’s safety. Oh, but you still want to see what’s lingering in the periphery…

When you arrive you at the finish, the tension is so taut that it hums like an unearthed power line. That’s what I remembered the most about the time I spent with Ramsey Campbell in my pre-teen/early teen years: You’d think he had to give you the reveal and he’d still turn the screw tighter. It felt almost mean in direct contradiction to that stereotype of the kindly British gentleman.

That, of course, means when you finally face the monster it’s enough to destroy your sanity. I won’t spoil anything, but I will say that I need to see a full artistic rendering of it. This madness would be right at home in a Resident Evil game. The imagery in The Wise Friend will stay with you for a while. I’d kill to see an edition of this full of illustrations like the best of Clive Barker. I know I’d pay good money for that.

The characters are classic Campbell – awkwardly real, highly intelligent, well-read, and a little off-kilter. The man doesn’t know how to give you a flat character. Their motivations are natural and make sense. At 256 pages, there’s no drag in the story, either. Time isn’t wasted on mundane details. He doesn’t want to let you off the hook, but you still get all the fleshing you need. Telling the story from Patrick’s perspective helps you to feel the dread in a way that traditional third person couldn’t, though it does make things a bit hard to follow when the back-and-forth dialogue gets rolling. Or maybe I’m just too American and don’t get all the British lingo, but I digress.

The Wise Friend is a first-rate cautionary tale of a father who looks a little too deeply into mysteries whose allure he could never resist at any age and the mistake of bringing his son in on the secret. It’s allegorical, too – rarely has the truth of coming of age and the discoveries that brings about been told with such a deft stroke. Ramsey Campbell is known as an absolute master for a reason.


Overall: 4 Star Rating Cover
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Buy from Amazon UK

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Stuart D. Monroe
Staff Reviewer
Stuart D. Monroe is a man of many faces – father, husband, movie reviewer, published author of short horror, unsuccessful screenwriter (for now), rabid Clemson Tiger, Southern gentleman, and one hell of a model American who goes by the handle "Big Daddy Stu" or "Sir". He's also highly disturbed and wears that fact like a badge of honor. He is a lover of all things horror with a particular taste for the fare of the Italians and the British. He sometimes gets aroused watching the hardcore stuff, but doesn't bother worrying about whether he was a serial killer in a past life as worrying is for the weak. He was raised in the video stores of the '80s and '90s. The movie theater is his cathedral. He worships H.P. Lovecraft, Stephen King, and Clive Barker. When he writes, he listens obsessively to either classical music or the works of Goblin to stimulate the neural pathways. His favorite movie is Dawn of the Dead. His favorite book is IT. His favorite TV show is LOST.
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