Ben Starling is orphaned at the age of 8 and is sent from his home town in Yorkshire to live with an aunt in Norwich. When the aunt dies many years later, he discovers that the family home was never sold, so he, his wife Ellen and his two children move in.
The house comes with a forest, in which Ben’s great grandfather died, after travelling in the north of Scandinavia collecting the folk tales of its Arctic inhabitants. He has vague memories of his father and grandfather taking him into the forest.
Everything is great at first; the children love their new life and Ben and Ellen can finally afford to write full time and have a very successful book and lots of inspiration to write more.
But then winter comes early, a few strange things happen, Ben starts acting oddly, and the village gets cut off from the outside world. What did great-grandfather Starling bring back from the north? There was a surviving copy of his published book but Ben’s (disapprovingly religious) aunt made it disappear as soon as he took an interest in it.
This is a lot like something MR James would have written if MR James wrote novels. And knew anything about family life and/or had ever met a woman. It’s a slow burner – for most of the book not a lot happens but there’s an undercurrent of unease that gradually builds.
I liked the mythos – it’s not quite what you think it is from the set-up, but it’s much better. Unfortunately I found the ending unconvincing.
This book was published in 1990. I’d lived in England for a bit then, and the book has the feel of an earlier setting, as if it was the 70s. But maybe that’s just me.
This is the second one of Campbell’s novels I’ve read. The last was years ago but I seem to remember that it was also pretty good but not unputdownable. I’ve also read a volume of his short stories and they’re much better. If you like ghost-story type psychological horror rather than a gore-fest, you could do worse than this.
 MR James wrote some of the best ghost stories in the world, no question. But one has to admit that his scope was limited.