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?
“The Wise Friend,” is a magical, cozy horror with a darker occult twist, that is bound to warm the hearts of readers, whilst simultaneously sending shivers down their spines. Reading this book is like finding a dead spider in the dregs of a comforting mug of hot chocolate- the closer you get to the end, the stronger the impression that something is wrong.
Campbell is considered one of the horror greats, and now that I’ve finally gotten around to reading him- I can see why. I want more.
Patrick Torrington is the nephew of famed occultist artist Thelma. Confused by the circumstances of her tragic death, and enamoured by her legacy, he sets out to investigate significant places and concepts referenced in her art. He doesn’t like what he finds. To his utter dismay, this morbid interest surrounding Thelma is inherited by his rebellious son Roy, and his girlfriend Bella. As Roy’s father, and the source of his obsession with Thelma’s past, Patrick must do all he can in order to stop his son… before it’s too late.
This book is an interesting one, as the relationships between characters (as opposed to the characters themselves) are one of “The Wise Friend’s,” biggest boasts. The paternal relationship between Roy and Patrick is particularly complex and interesting. Whilst it is strained (Roy is somewhat of a loose cannon) Patrick’s determination to protect his child, and their shared intrigue toward Thelma’s work are a uniting factor. Furthermore, the power dynamic within Bella and Roy’s relationship is also thought-provoking- Roy is so enchanted by Bella, he is happy to cast his father aside and be led down a dangerous path.
The writing here is dry, intricate and incredibly slow-burn. The subtle sense that something was wrong personally compelled me to read on, and I finished the book within two days despite the winding (but fun) path Campbell makes the reader follow. The deliberately slow pacing was no issue, as the prose was so poetic, and I had so many burning questions, I was happy to relax and trust the process. That being said, if you’re a reader who prefers immediate-action, and “to-the-point,” writing- you won’t enjoy this.
The imagery within this book was absolutely a highlight. A common misconception regarding “cozy horror,” is that it’s not scary. “The Wise Friend,” is proof that it can be. Campbell’s descriptions of the locations visited by Patrick and Roy, were interwoven with dread, and instilled with paranoia. Some passages genuinely made me look over my shoulder- something that was truly impressive considering the lack of creature feature or paranormal entity. I wish that there was a technical or intellectual way to describe how Campbell makes his locations so creepy and visceral, but there’s not. The answer is simply that the settings gave off “Bad vibes.” With that in mind, I plan to read “The House on Nazareth Hill,” (a haunted house story) as soon as I can get my grubby little hands on it.
If you’re looking for a truly unsettling -but cozy- read, rooted in secrecy and lies: look no further than “The Wise Friend.” There’s magic, there’s strained relationships and Guillermo del Torro liked it… what more could you ask for?