Ghosts Know by Ramsey Campbell © 2011 Tor
Campbell is a prolific and vaunted horror writer. I have enjoyed his books in the past and looked forward to Ghosts. In the book’s acknowledgements, Campbell said it was a story he had been mulling since the 1970s. If it had been fermenting that long, it had to be terrific!
Well—Graham Wilde is a confrontational radio talk show host who thinks a psychic, Frank Jasper, who has been called in for help on the murder of a local girl, is a fake. Wilde knows Jasper from childhood and embarrasses Jasper when he has him on the radio show. Then Jasper has a vision regarding the murdered girl that implicates Wilde in the murder. So far, so good. Looked like the plot would be Wilde and Jasper backstabbing each other. But, no, the intriguing Jasper antagonist simply drops out of the story at that point, and Wilde proceeds, in bumbling fashion, to try and expose the real killer to clear his name. He does expose the real killer—a character with which Wilde had no prior conflict—by getting the real killer to confess on the air.
Only he doesn’t. I read through the salient parts several times to make sure I hadn’t missed something. There was no logical reason at all for Wilde to suspect this person was the real killer, and in the on-air exchange, the real killer said nothing remotely approaching a confession. The killer didn’t even mention the crime. How this “mystery” was solved was the only real mystery, along with why the book was called Ghosts Know, since there was no ghost or other supernatural element whatsoever.
If your main character has an enemy, then that is who or what your main character should ultimately confront. And if the story is about solving a crime, then the crime should be solved in a way that makes some kind of sense.
Forty years wasn’t enough to turn Ghost Knows into a palatable vintage. Its pages must ferment away in my recycling bin.