Ramsay Campbell is unpredictable, and it’s kind of hard to guess what you’re going to get. You can't put The Nameless (1981) at the forefront of the Ramsey oeuvre, because although it starts well, it transitions to the climax too slowly.
Ramsey Cambell's volumes are to be treated as personal. The story is about a woman who has lost her daughter, only to receive a phone call nine years later from a person she believes is the girl – and it all leads her into the world of a hideous and sadistic cult of people with no names – among other things.
As far as appears, The Nameless is the only one of Ramsey Campbell's many novels to have been filmed – so far. It’s a pity, yes, but it certainly is the easiest in terms of plot. The film is something of a modern gallio and readers will be surprised they even optioned this novel for this production, as it bears so little relation. A proper, even British, film of The Nameless would be more satisfying.
The highlights in The Nameless come pretty early, when the hero Barbara is creeping around the deserted safe houses used by the cult, making shocking discoveries. These are truly creepy scenes with an atmosphere that isn’t caught again until near the end. During these genre-perfect thrill-a-page passages, which seem in parts as stock as anything James Herbert might produce, the book is diverting, enjoyable and possessed of a down to earth suspense that is best served late at night.
As is common in the horror game, The Nameless doesn’t lead to a full-on, epic and fulfilling ending; I mean, the end is good, but perfunctory, given the build-up is so fantastic. Horror fans are fussy like this and among the most demanding of all readers.
Much of horror reading is about enjoying the moment as opposed to fulfilling an entire work. It means that the great build up, which comes to little, proves in a way that the high hopes enjoyed throughout the book must be valued – not dismissed merely because they are dashed aside in closing. Finishing is so hard to do, and we can never know if there are sadistic forces at work behind the scenes in a writer’s life. After all, it's a horrific business.