The Influence by genre master Ramsey Campbell falls into the sub-category of Horror in the Household. Weird Aunt Queenie reigns over her kin financially and psychologically. Her malevolent matriarchal superiority was established when her nieces Hermione and Alison were just children. Queenie kept one of Hermione’s baby teeth, and the grown-up Hermione still experiences dental pain in the former tooth’s site when she thinks or says something critical of her maiden aunt. Hermione herself is a classic neurotic spinster. She’s fanatically protective of Alison and Alison’s young daughter, Rowan. Rowan is fixated upon by Queenie, who views the child as having potential. Of course, potential in such a narrative is not a good thing.
Even after her demise, Queenie holds sway over the family. Rowan’s parents are having difficulty making ends meet, and inheriting Queenie’s abode is a means of dealing with the issue. After moving into the dwelling, Rowan is left to her own devices. She makes friends with a strange girl named Vicky who drives a wedge into Rowan’s relationship with her mother and father. Vicky is diabolically manipulative; pulling strings and turning screws with an acumen that belies her youth. She has no trouble intimidating the already overwrought Hermione: “The pale eyes stared at her as if she were a dog that would have to look away before they blinked, if they ever did. The smile was telling her that there was nothing she could do, despite all her knowledge. The power of that contempt settled about Hermione until she could no longer hear or feel the wind.”
The tale is set in the environs of Liverpool as well as Wales, and locales are finely described. While atmosphere is a hallmark of author Campbell’s writing, he is intent on providing copious characterization in this possession/ghost story. Points of view of the characters sometimes overlap temporally, allowing the reader to understand how a specific event spills over; affecting more than one person’s reaction to it.
There are abundant scares in the novel, including this one, in which the occupant of an opened coffin rises to the occasion: “The hair stuck to the lining. It tore free of the gray scalp as the corpse sat up stiffly, a bald grinning doll with no eyes worth the name. Perhaps it was as mindless as a puppet, but its fleshless grin fell open in what might have been a soundless scream of triumph as it clasped its arms around Hermione’s neck and pressed its face against hers.”
Originally published by Macmillan, The Influence was reprinted in 2013 by Samhain Publishing. The novel is a prime example of why Ramsey Campbell is held in such high esteem by those in the horror community.