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Ramsey Campbell
The One Safe Place
Headline Books
UK Hardcover First Edition
ISBN 0-7472-0666-X
Publication Date: 02-02-1995
373 pages; £16.99 ; $37.95
Date Reviewed:08-03-2001, 10-10-2012
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2012

Index Mystery, General Fiction, Horror  

Editor's Note: Ramsey Campbell celebrates 50 years of publishing this year; and thusly, I went out and unearthed my 2002 interview with him, and after a bit of processing, rescued it from RealAudio Hell. Yes, I remember the days just ten years ago when uploading an MP3 file of an interview seemed incredibly difficult. I really enjoyed my chat with Ramsey, and hope very much to do so again. In the interim, here's a review of a book that is still well worth your valuable reading time!

Ramsey Campbell is best known for his novels of supernatural horror. He has a fine ability to evoke the ineffable with carefully controlled prose and an eye for the surreal. But he doesn't limit himself, and 'The One Safe Place' is a work of straightforward crime fiction that is genuinely terrifying without ever having to leave the province of the daily newspaper. Campbell is smart enough to leaven his terror with wonderfully morbid bits of dark humor, even as he ratchets up the tension to a nearly unbearable level.

As 'The One Safe Place' begins, the reader is introduced to two very different boys and their families. Marshall Travis is the twelve year old son of Don and Suzanne Travis. She's a lecturer on film violence at a college near Miami, her husband is a bookseller, and their son is being terrorized by the local teen-age hoods. He barely escapes, only because his family is moving to Manchester, England, where his mother has assigned to teach a special course abroad.

Darren Fancy is his British counterpart, a fouteen year old thug with no conscience whose mother is a prostitute and father is a violent petty criminal. He lives in a room full of stolen VCRs and computers, and keeps watch as his father and uncles move stolen goods in and out of the house. There's an organic, textured feel to his dialogues, internal and external that breathes a fascinating, darkly satiric life into Darren and the Fancy family. It's a riveting unique piece of criminal characterization, reminiscent of Ruth Rendell or the criminal families found in John Mortimer's Rumpole stories.

Of course, their paths cross when the Travis family moves to Manchester. Campbell's plot is a brilliant stitchery of everyday events that escalate from misunderstanding to argument to deceit to violence so smoothly, the reader will start to wonder when the story is going to appear on CNN. Campbell goes one better when he moves the story into a visionary prose tour of London as a suburban nightmare and re-assemble the familiar into a weird landscape as seen though his characters' eyes.

He underwrites his absurd visions with a clever turn of the plot, and through it all, the characters grow more and more real as the Fancy and Travis families are irrevocably changed by their encounter with one another. 'The One Safe Place' is a slyly humorous, darkly horrific look at the strengths and weaknesses of the family that will rivet and repel the reader long after the last page is turned.

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