cover image The Last Voice They Hear

The Last Voice They Hear

Ramsey Campbell. Forge, $24.95 (384pp) ISBN 978-0-312-86611-2

Compared to Campbell's extraordinary horror novel, Nazareth Hill, his new suspense thriller is disappointingly ordinary. Reprising the theme that has dominated his writing for the past decade, Campbell once again contemplates the dismal consequences of the breakdown of the family. The happy married life of young father and investigative reporter Geoff Davenport is shattered when his unbalanced, resentful, long-lost stepbrother, Ben, kidnaps Geoff's three-year-old son. Ben still blames Geoff for the parental abandonment he suffered after his sibling's birth. Incited by Geoff's recent TV documentary on a negligent home for children, Ben has embarked on a crime spree that culminates in the kidnapping. The plot unfolds without complication as a simple cat-and-mouse game in which Ben lures Geoff to an inevitable confrontation through clues keyed to shared childhood experiences. It is the novel's conceit that Geoff's family fails to recognize Ben's identity, but readers will guess easily which peripheral character in the Davenports' social circle to suspect. Although Campbell provides moments of tension that rival his most chilling terrors (including a riveting finale), these are just tentative shocks in an otherwise slack crime drama. It's a tribute to his precise characters and dialogue that this predictable story still compels attention, yet one senses Campbell is just marking time before his next horror opus. (June)