Fiction Reviews


(2022) Ramsey Campbell, Flame Tree Press, £9.95 / Can$19.95 / US$14.95, pbk, 246pp, ISBN 978-1-787- 58755-7


Well, this is a surprise, perhaps, not a pleasant one, given the contents of Ramsey Campbell’s new novel Fellstones. Campbell has always a disciplined writer in putting the hours in, but hot off the tails of The Wise Friend and Somebody’s Voice, again published by Flame Tree Press, who also recently reprinted his trilogy The Three Birth of Daoloth (Born to the Dark, Searching the Dead and The Way of the Worm). Here we have another new novel from Campbell, and while the cover shows the silhouettes of the Fellstones themselves with the blurb - or should that be a warning that – “the ancient stones dream, but they begin to waken”, we might be thinking that we are firmly in one of Campbell’s favourite subjects, that is, cosmic horror, but Fellstones is a lot more than that, merging two of Campbell's other favourite subjects, psychological horror and the comedy of paranoia.

The latter, perhaps needs an unreliable narrator and we certainly have one in the form of Paul Dunstan, who has a settled, but an unfulfilled, life, working in the classical section of a record shop under the watchful eye of the manager who keeps a beady eye on his comings and goings of all her staff, especially Paul who is in a relationship with another staff member, Caren, which seems a bit tense, and Paul isn’t hitting his sales targets either. Could things get any worse? Of course they could, because Dell, or Adele, his sort of sister, walks back into his life from his old life. The one he ran away from, the one he can’t remember entirely, and would rather completely forget.

Dell informs Paul that her parents (the Staveleys, who adopted Paul when his own parents died in a car crash) aren’t well, and would like to see him one last time, so he reluctantly agrees to return to the remote village of Fellstones, named after the seven standing stones in the village green, and he’s back in the clutches of the Staveleys who tried to mould his musical talent and turn him into something he didn’t want to be, and he’s back in the spider’s web. Even when he tries to return to Caren, and his flat and his job, he finds that there is one sticky thread, pulling him back and spoiling his relationship with Caren and his relationship with his employer. But the more he returns to Fellstones, the more he remembers things he would like to forget, about the Staveleys, the death of his parents, his singing talent, and his surroundings – the village where everyone knows everyone else’s business, where the doors are never locked; to the nearby, ruined Starward Hall; and the mysterious Fellstones themselves.

Fellstones, the novel is a bit of a slow burner, and a change of pace from Campbell’s normal cosmic horror fare, but it has some of the trademarks which make his writing such a force, such as narrative drive, ominous chapter endings, and his own unique flair for off-kilter descriptions. Paul, or Michael (to give him his real name), is a wonderfully flawed character: weak, sometimes headstrong, awkward, with a bit of a temper who doubts himself throughout the novel as he struggles to remember a past which is skewed by his dislike of the Staveleys while Caren tries to assure him that things can’t be that bad, and struggles to hold on to their relationship as the past reclaims him. Fellstones the place is also a wonderful creation, remote and full of creepy people who seem overly glad that Paul has returned, especially with the forthcoming village festival and a play about the stones and the stars to be performed. Only a resident of the local nursing home seems to think there is something wrong, but can his opinions be trusted given what the Staveleys and the staff of the home have to say about him, yet he might be a vital ally in helping Paul discover what really happened to his parents and even how the village got its name. You might be thinking that we are firmly in Wicker Man territory here, but you would be wrong, suffice to say that Fellstones is laced with foreshadowing and builds to a horrific climax as the ancient past meets the present, and the reader is left wondering if, for some, the true horror has only just begun. Recommended.

Ian Hunter


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