cover image The One Safe Place

The One Safe Place

Ramsey Campbell. Forge, $23.95 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-312-86035-6

Taking a holiday from his usual supernatural horrors, Campbell (The Long Lost) delivers his grimmest novel yet, a thriller seething with outrage at a judicial system that makes victims out to be villains. The victims here are the Travises, American expatriates to England who run afoul of criminal lowlife Phil Fancy. After Phil is apprehended for forcing his way into the Travis home, events escalate tragically. Phil slips through legal loopholes with a light sentence. But Susanne Travis, a university instructor, is pilloried in the press for owning videos that violate Britain's tough censorship laws, and her husband falls prey to Phil's vengeful family. Equal horrors befall 12-year-old Marshall Travis, whom Phil's punk son, Darren, kidnaps and torments to win the regard of his relatives. Campbell is an expert at building terror subtly and indirectly. He brings an almost unbearable intensity to Marshall's ordeal by keeping the boy drugged, deprived of his eyeglasses and naively oblivious to the danger of the games Darren plays with him, including one excruciatingly suspenseful round of Russian roulette. Credible renderings of the inner lives of both boys, who seem like grotesque parodies of one another, and of the squalor of the Fancy household, give the story a suffocating sense of desperation. Ultimately, Campbell persuades the reader that the loss of innocence that Darren embodies and that he inflicts upon Marshall is more horrifying that any supernatural menace. (Aug.)