Patrick Torrington’s aunt Thelma was a successful artist whose late work turned towards the occult. While staying with her in his teens he found evidence that she used to visit magical sites. As an adult he discovers her journal of her explorations, and his teenage son Roy becomes fascinated too.
His experiences at the sites scare Patrick away from them, but Roy carries on the search, together with his new girlfriend. Can Patrick convince his son that his increasingly terrible suspicions are real, or will what they’ve helped to rouse take a new hold on the world?
I have to admit, I was really surprised by The Wise Friend. It was much more atmospheric than I expected it to be. The book was written with so much prose it felt almost poetic at times, and the tone was dark and smokey. It is told from the main protagonist’s point-of-view (Patrick), and reading it in first-person I almost felt like I was in a fog the whole time. I say that with the highest compliments to Ramsey Campbell.
The story follows Patrick as he watches his son Roy follow his footsteps into the dangerous world that inspired his Patrick’s aunt’s art. Together, Roy and his new girlfriend Bella set out to explore these places, the same ones that drove his aunt to suicide. Patrick becomes worried for the young couple. Having explored the sites himself Patrick knows they give off bad vibes, and he wants to protect Roy from the black magic lurking beneath the surface. Meanwhile, Roy is enamored with Bella, who is leading their expedition, and wants to do whatever he can to please her. Patrick becomes wary of the situation and begins to do everything he can to keep them from getting too far into the weeds.
What I love most about this book is how the story slowly descends into darkness. It is as though the characters are in quicksand; every action they take, every move they make sinks them deeper and deeper into the abyss. There are no violent outbursts, bloody stumps, or gorey scenes. Just a deliberate downward dive that eventually becomes so creepy it gave me goosebumps.
The characters were all relatable and easy to connect with. They all have their own personal issues they are working through, and the first-person narrative allows the reader access to intimate feelings and moments that add to the atmospheric nature of the story.
The one drawback for me was the dialogue. If you have read my reviews, you know that I believe dialogue is the hardest part of writing, so I try not to be too harsh in critiquing it. I did find myself thinking about the dialogue as I was reading, though, which took me out of the story at times. Even so, this did not effect my enjoyment of the story too a high degree.
The Wise Friend is 200+ pages of super slow-burn horror that oftentimes had me feeling as though I was walking through mud (IN A GOOD WAY) to get to the payoff. Every step I took was slow and meticulous, every turn fraught with danger. I recommend it for fans of the horror genre.