Fiction Reviews

The Lonely Lands

(2023) Ramsey Campbell, Flame Tree Press,
£9.95 / Can$21.95 / US$16.95, pbk, 246pp, ISBN 978-1-787-58863-9


The latest bestseller from the ultimate craftsman of the dark fantastic, Ramsey Campbell. Joe Hunter has begun to adjust to the loss of his wife when he hears her calling from beyond, “Where am I?” His urge to help leads him into her afterlife, which is made up of their memories. Even the best of those is no refuge from the restless dead, and Joe can only lure them away from her. Soon they begin to invade his everyday life, and every journey he makes to find her leaves him less able to return. When her refuges turn nightmarish, he may have to make the ultimate sacrifice to keep her safe…

I have to confess to thinking of Ramsey Campbell as “our leader” because Ramsey was President of the British Fantasy Society when I first joined the Society, a position he held for many years after. Here, he is riffing off his previous work, and the brilliant trilogy that make up The Three Birth of Daoloth series. In fact, we are under the shadow of those books as we start with a quote from Christian Noble when he addresses members of the Church of the Eternal Three: “The dead use our dreams to return.” Then we are into the first of thirty-six chapters, which is my sort of book, in fact, the first chapter is only two lines long as Joe hears a message from his late wife, that he wrongly assumes is meant to reassure him, but its real meaning just ramps up the nightmare he has found himself in since the death of his wife Olivia.

Campbell sets up the novel by flitting between key events in Joe’s life as we see him as a boy disappointing his granddad because of his lack of football prowess, but his grandfather soon becomes ill and less vital, declining physically and mentally. Through his involvement with Christian Noble’s church he starts to worry that he might return to Joe after death, but not in a form that Joe would like. As we meet Joe the boy, we meet an older Joe who works in a library under the beady eyes of nasty Russell, his boss, who dislikes Joe even more when he sides with Olivia when she tries to buy some library books. That costs Joe his job, but brings him closer to Olivia and the shop she runs called Made of Memories, and friendship turns to love and a better life.

That life ends when the couple encounter an anti-mask march and see a man robbing the flower shop next to Olivia’s shop. Olivia confronts the thief, but Joe can’t get through the marchers and watches in horror as the thief pulls down his own mask and coughs in Olivia’s face. Joe gives chase and takes a picture of the thief. Olivia catches the disease that is ravaging society and Joe is left along, and a two-pronged nightmare begins.

I say two-pronged as there are natural nightmares and supernatural nightmares coming Joe’s way. Campbell is a master of heightened dread, and the “shudder effect” where he sets things up brilliantly, and horribly, and stops just short and lets the reader’s imagination takes the next horrific step. We just know that Joe is going to be fodder for an uncaring system and his attempts to get justice for Olivia in court will be excruciatingly awful. Likewise, he has to deal with the overly-friendly and borderline stalker-ish attentions of his neighbour, Abigail, and the frosty encounters he has with Olivia’s parents.

But on the supernatural front, he is hearing and seeing things. Are they real, or imagined? Is he going mad through stress and grief? Campbell, or course, builds the supernatural element up through observation and description and Joe remembering the warning words of his grandfather about the dead being able to return. In his dreams, Joe can visit the afterlife where his granddad lurks, where Olivia is being altered by her parent’s memories of her. In order to save his wife he must intervene and act as a buffer between Olivia and the dead who would do her harm.

The Lonely Lands is another master class in literary horror from one of the best writers in the field. Seemingly, there are another two novels on their way from Campbell, the first one called The Incubators. I look forward to reading it and journeying down new roads filled with unease, but in the meantime The Lonely Lands comes highly recommended.

Ian Hunter

See also Arthur's take on The Lonely Lands.


[Up: Fiction Reviews Index | SF Author: Website Links | Home Page: Concatenation]

[One Page Futures Short Stories | Recent Site Additions | Most Recent Seasonal Science Fiction News]

[Updated: 24.1.15 | Contact | Copyright | Privacy]