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The One Safe Place

Ramsey Campbell

Headline Books

UK Hardcover

ISBN 0-7472-0666-X

373 pages; $37.95

Reviewed by Rick Kleffel © 2001



Mystery, Horror

02-14-02, 03-25-02, 03-28-02, 04-15-02, 01-16-03, 01-17-03, 08-22-03

A book reviewer with the unlikely name of Edna Stumpf once rounded off a critique of a Ramsey Campbell novel with the recommendation that "Campbell take ten years to flush the Lovecraft out of his typewriter". Apparently, that ten years has passed somewhere in Campbell's thirty-year career, with the result being 'The One Safe Place', his latest work, 'a novel of everyday terror'. He has flushed not only Lovecraft, but all things supernatural from his writing and 'The One Safe Place' is all the better for it. This novel is just as surreal and horrific as any other Campbell novel. But the elements are all there to be found in your daily newspaper, though not shot through with the brilliant bits of dark humor that lift 'The Only Safe Place' well above the rest of the novels of psychological horror littering the shelves of bookstores.

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 and urban nightmare. 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.