The Kind Folk by Ramsey Campbell. Book review

THE KIND FOLK  by Ramsey Campbell, PS Publishing, HB, £19.99. www.pspublishing.co.uk

Reviewed by Stewart Horn

Luke Arnold is a professional comedian and impressionist, with an almost superhuman ability to imitate anybody.  But perhaps his greatest trick is pretending to be human, and he’s even fooled himself.

A beloved uncle dies, and while sorting through the uncle’s house, Luke finds a lot of strange clues that all point toward a magical and sinister past.  His investigation, adventures and subsequent discoveries form the subject of this book.

This is not a typical modern horror novel – it’s more like a fairy tale: there is very little violence; hardly anybody dies, and most of the plot comprises a man wandering roundBritainand seeing disturbing things out of the corner of his eye.  But that almost-glimpsed movement in the shadows and the sense of unease it can engender – these areCampbell’s favourite tools.  He uses them to weave a subtle web of menace that gradually grows throughout the novel.  He can make you look over your shoulder like no-one else, even when the monster is little more substantial than moonlight.

I’ve been reading Campbell’s fiction for a long time, but this is the first time I’ve done it with my reviewer’s hat on, paying attention to his style and technique.  If anything, it’s more fun this way.  There are descriptive passages here in which someone enters a room, or catches sight of something significant – Campbell gives a single phrase or a throw-away line that conveys not just what’s there, but what it feels like to be that character in that situation in a certain frame of mind.  Physical descriptions are barely there at all unless absolutely vital to the scene.  His dialogue is consistently convincing, his characters completely real, and while it’s not a laugh a minute, there is a lot of sly humour in there.  It’s like a how to guide to writing, and not just writing horror.  And he seems to do it with no effort at all – if this was a maths exam he’d lose marks for not showing the working.

The prose is pared down to the essentials, to the extent that if you miss a word or your eyes slide over a phrase, you’ve probably missed something important, so this is perhaps not a book for that 7am train journey when you’re not fully awake yet.  It’s more for those cold winter nights when you’re alone in the house and want something substantial and satisfyingly creepy.