cover image Silent Children

Silent Children

Dev Stryker, Ramsey Campbell. Tor Books, $24.95 (352pp) ISBN 978-0-312-87056-0

Over the past 30 years, Campbell (The Last Voice They Hear) has perfected a story style distinctive for its stifling atmosphere of dread and oblique approach to horror. Applying it here to the shocking theme of a serial child-killer, he has crafted a nail-biting psychological thriller, his best in nearly a decade. The tale begins on a high note of menace when Leslie Ames and her adolescent son, Ian, move back to the house they had vacated upon the discovery that builder Hector Woollie had stashed the corpse of a young girl beneath its floor. The sense of impending terror only intensifies. Distrusted by the locals and hounded by the tabloids, Leslie and Ian nevertheless let a room to American horror-writer Jack Lamb. Jack quickly befriends Ian and beds Leslie, but says nothing of his secret, shameful tie to WoollieDwho has not died by misadventure as reported, but is on the loose and intent on returning to the scene of his crime. Campbell establishes his characters in sharp, precise slashes of chapters, which alternate the viewpoints of the oblivious Ames family, self-tortured Jack and Woollie, a grotesque travesty of a human being, whose sentiments toward children are presented as hideously warped feelings of affection. The climax they build to is a tour-de-force of suspense, in which Woollie's abduction of Ian is abetted by miscommunication, duplicitous motives and a freakish but plausible succession of near discoveries and cliffhanger escapes, all expertly set up in the early chapters. Ingeniously imbedded reflections of family ties, personal responsibility and even the esthetics of horror fiction give the narrative substance without ever slowing its relentless, cinematic pace. (July)