cover image The Long Lost

The Long Lost

Ramsey Campbell. Tor Books, $22.95 (375pp) ISBN 978-0-312-85825-4

Campbell may be the most protean of horror writers, adept at quiet terror in the classic tradition (Midnight Sun), eccentric horror that plays for laughs (The Count of Eleven) or, as in this tightly wrought work, fiction that uses the genre as a staging ground for deft psychological and sociological commentary. The occult element here is almost incidental to the mayhem unleased in the English town of Chester after home renovators David and Joelle Owain discover a withered old woman barely alive outside a remote Welsh village and take her home with them. Soon, the lives of the Owains and their friends and neighbors take a precipitous turn toward madness: train engineer Herb Cantry, enraged at his wife's leaving him for another man, crashes his train and kills both himself and his rival; computer consultant Richard Vale, his business in tatters, poisons his entire family; David Owain falls out with a close friend and falls in lust with a sexy teenager. Meanwhile, the old woman grows ever more vigorous. At novel's end, in a revelation that feels arbitrary and even unnecessary, Campbell lets on why, but the reason hardly matters because his main aim here seems not to be the delineation of supernatural agents and horror but the tracing of what happens when conscience gives way to license. At this he succeeds admirably, though with its minimum of occult bells and whistles this novel is more suited for a mainstream audience than the vociferous horror readership the author has courted for so long. (Oct.)