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The Nameless by Ramsey Campbell

Book name: The Nameless

Author: Ramsey Campbell

Publisher: Fontana

Format: print

Genre: Horror

Publication Date: 1981

Rating: 4/5


I'm just going to mention that this week's John C Adams Reviews Way Back Whensday novel for review, The Nameless by Ramsey Campbell, features a plot line that centres around child abduction and indoctrination by a cult.


For that reason, up front right here, I'm going to give it a trigger warning for readers who may be affected by these subject matters.


The Nameless was Ramsey Campbell's fourth novel, published way back in 1981. He was already a prolific author, having also had two short story anthologies published by Arkham House by this point.


Barbara Waugh is a literary agent in London, having lost her husband (when he was working out in Saudi Arabia) and a few years later their daughter Angela. The little girl was snatched from her village day nursery by an unknown man, conspicuously charming, with whom Angela was happy to leave.


Barbara returned from work to receive the devastating news from her best friend, Jan. The body of a young child is subsequently found and, notwithstanding that the face of the child is so disfigured that identification can only be speculative, the search for Angela is called off and Barbara is left to come to terms with this second bereavement.


It takes time for Barbara to work through her grief, but she expands her business as a literary agent and is very successful at doing a job she loves. She forms a relationship with one of her clients, Ted, after he separates from his wife.


She would try to move on completely and process her grief, were it not for the fact that she regularly receives telephone calls from Angela.


Barbara's research discovers another young girl who was snatched by a nameless group of Satan worshippers only to escape brainwashed and traumatised. She becomes convinced that the same thing has happened to her own daughter and that Angela is still alive.


Like many of Ramsey Campbell's novels, The Nameless is a slow burn with plenty of focus on character development and emotions. Barbara and Ted are sympathetic characters, and the search for Angela drives the narrative very effectively.


The supporting characters who assist in the search, such as an independent journalist and the parents of the rescued child, were very well portrayed even though their appearances were comparatively brief.


The horror is, until later chapters, gently developed, and the earlier section demonstrates hints of the terror to burst forth later. However, the emerging truths of the Satanic sect snatching homeless people and young children to brainwash into their cult are powerfully horrifying.


The literary world of central London is effectively and credibly portrayed, with a great amount of realistic detail about a city I know very well. I loved this aspect especially because I now live at the other end of the country and seldom get back down to the south. I haven't lived in London for decades, but this novel really took me back to when I did.


Most of the action in The Nameless occurred quite late on as the search for Angela gathered pace. I didn't feel the earlier sections dragged, though, because I really enjoyed the slow build up and focus on character.


The Nameless dealt with an incredibly difficult topic, that of child abduction and indoctrination, in a way that sat comfortably within the horror genre. There can be no doubt that this is a horror novel.


However, Ramsey Campbell was careful in how he approached this tricky subject matter, and he was never gratuitous in the writing style.


For parents, child abduction is a terrible fear and it is right that the horror genre considers it alongside other fears central to human existence.


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If you’ve enjoyed this review, you might be interested reading in my review of In the Tall Grass.


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