Fellstones, by Ramsey Campbell

Ramsey Campbell remains my favorite horror author and, in my opinion, one of the greatest writers of all time, period. So any time a new Campbell novel appears, I snap it up without hesitation. The most recent is Fellstones, which just came out in September of this year.

Not much of a spoiler to say that I really enjoyed the book! Campbell typically writes in two categories of horror: supernatural horror and psychological (serial killer) horror. I read all of his work, but am particularly drawn to his supernatural works, and Fellstones is one of them.

Paul Dunstan is eager to forget his childhood in the remote village of Fellstones. He lost his parents in an accident at a very young age and was taken in by the Staveley family, who teach music in the area. The Staveley’s considered Paul a musical prodigy, and pushed him heavily to develop his singing ability, which Paul found intolerable. The first chance he got — going to college — he abandoned Fellstones and never looked back.

Until now. Paul’s stepsister Adele visits him in Liverpool and asks him to come visit home. Her parents aren’t doing well, and they could really use an appearance by Paul to lift their spirits. Paul hesitatingly agrees, and finds himself heading to Fellstones the very next day.

Fellstones is named after the ancient stone circle in the center of town. Nobody knows when or why the stones were put up, but Paul has always felt strange around them. Even stranger is the reception he receives in Fellstones. His stepparents are healthier than he was led to believe, and the entire village comes out to see him. They are excited for him to participate in a festival they are holding at the end of the week, one in which they see Paul and his musical talents playing an important role. Paul is doubtful at first, but the Staveleys are very persuasive, so much so that Paul finds it harder and harder to escape the village as the week progresses.

What is the ritual that the Staveleys and the village want him to participate in, and what is its purpose? As the event nears, Paul recalls more and more about his childhood, including many memories that he had long repressed. But can he learn the secret of the Fellstones before it is too late?

Fellstones is definitely a story that uses the uncomfortable feeling of family gatherings as a basis for horror. Paul finds himself trapped among people who are only too friendly but simultaneously secretive about their plans for him.

Adding to this social discomfort: Campbell is a master of writing HUGELY passive-aggressive dialogue. Imagine the end of a troubled relationship, where every innocent thing you say is misinterpreted as an attack in the worst possible way? I get anxiety just reading such things, and Campbell does it beautifully.

Fellstones is a novel of creeping dread. Most of the horror is in the anticipation of events to come, and seeing the trap close inexorably around Paul. Somehow I took this story even more personally than others of Campbell’s (maybe a family thing), and found myself desperately rooting for Paul to survive by the end. Does he? Well, of course you’ll have to read it.

Campbell has been writing horror fiction for over fifty years, and it is just a delight to see that he still can capture the disturbing parts of both human nature as well as the supernatural. I enjoyed Fellstones, and look forward to his next book.

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