The Last Voice They Hear

The Last Voice They Hear

by Ramsey Campbell
     
 

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An investigative journalist is in the middle of a publicity tour for his new book when a voice from the past phones him. Someone is killing happily married couples, looking for the right combination of age and attitude, the right sort of family ties. That someone might be the journalist's brother.

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Overview

An investigative journalist is in the middle of a publicity tour for his new book when a voice from the past phones him. Someone is killing happily married couples, looking for the right combination of age and attitude, the right sort of family ties. That someone might be the journalist's brother.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Compared to Campbell's extraordinary horror novel, Nazareth Hill, his new suspense thriller is disappointingly ordinary. Reprising the theme that has dominated his writing for the past decade, Campbell once again contemplates the dismal consequences of the breakdown of the family. The happy married life of young father and investigative reporter Geoff Davenport is shattered when his unbalanced, resentful, long-lost stepbrother, Ben, kidnaps Geoff's three-year-old son. Ben still blames Geoff for the parental abandonment he suffered after his sibling's birth. Incited by Geoff's recent TV documentary on a negligent home for children, Ben has embarked on a crime spree that culminates in the kidnapping. The plot unfolds without complication as a simple cat-and-mouse game in which Ben lures Geoff to an inevitable confrontation through clues keyed to shared childhood experiences. It is the novel's conceit that Geoff's family fails to recognize Ben's identity, but readers will guess easily which peripheral character in the Davenports' social circle to suspect. Although Campbell provides moments of tension that rival his most chilling terrors (including a riveting finale), these are just tentative shocks in an otherwise slack crime drama. It's a tribute to his precise characters and dialogue that this predictable story still compels attention, yet one senses Campbell is just marking time before his next horror opus. (June)
Kirkus Reviews
British psychothriller in the vein of Campbell's The Count of Eleven (1992) and Nazareth Hill (1997), with none of his more familiar occult horror and supernatural trimmings. Some nut is killing the happily marrieds around Windsor—perhaps someone insanely jealous of their joys, and clearly someone who has a way of tapping into their home life. Could it be the bland but persistent cab driver who seems unnaturally interested in the private lives of his fares? Or another of the eccentrics on the periphery of the community? The theme of endangered families allows Campbell to display one of his most delectable gifts: writing affectionately about marriage and children while unsettling the reader with subtle suggestions of imminent disaster. Here, he focuses on Geoff and Gail Davenport and their three-year-old son Paul. Geoff, an investigative TV journalist, has just published an expos‚ of mismanaged children's homes when he begins receiving heavy-breathing wordless phone calls. He suspects that the figure on the other end is his long-vanished older half-brother Ben, a suspicion he reluctantly shares with Gail, who until now had not known of Benþs existence. Vastly abused as a child, Ben ran off at 18 rather than enter the family firm, and he hasn't been seen since. Now, Geoff suspects, Ben wants to revive their childhood game of hide-and-seek; this time out, the clues include a letter left under the bedroom rug of a house they were raised in. Geoff resists Ben's attempts to get him to play, but Ben, of course, isnþt just playingþhas in fact become a serial killer. As his crimes pile up, he earns the moniker The Kissing Bandit for the ingenious and gruesome way inwhich he murders couples. One knows far ahead that Ben's big moment will come with his kidnap of baby Paul. Ghoulish? You bet, though clever Ben isn't as fearsome as the savagely moronic Fancy family of Campbellþs 1996 novel, The One Safe Place.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780312870782
Publisher:
Tom Doherty Associates
Publication date:
10/15/1999
Sold by:
Macmillan
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
384
File size:
0 MB

Meet the Author

Ramsey Campbell has won more awards than any other living author of horror or dark fantasy, including four World Fantasy Awards, nine British Fantasy Awards, three Bram Stoker Awards, and two International Horror Guild Awards. Critically acclaimed both in the US and in England, Campbell is widely regarded as one of the genre's literary lights for both his short fiction and his novels. His classic novels, such as The Face that Must Die, The Doll Who Ate His Mother, and The Influence, set new standards for horror as literature. His collection, Scared Stiff, virtually established the subgenre of erotic horror.

Ramsey Campbell's works have been published in French, German, Italian, Spanish, Japanese, and several other languages. He has been President of the British Fantasy Society and has edited critically acclaimed anthologies, including Fine Frights. Campbell's best known works in the US are Obsession, Incarnate, Midnight Sun, and Nazareth Hill.


Ramsey Campbell has won more awards than any other living author of horror or dark fantasy, including four World Fantasy Awards, nine British Fantasy Awards, three Bram Stoker Awards, and two International Horror Guild Awards. Critically acclaimed both in the US and in England, Campbell is widely regarded as one of the genre's literary lights for both his short fiction and his novels. His classic novels, such as The Face that Must Die, The Doll Who Ate His Mother, and The Influence, set new standards for horror as literature. His collection, Scared Stiff, virtually established the subgenre of erotic horror.

Ramsey Campbell's works have been published in French, German, Italian, Spanish, Japanese, and several other languages. He has been President of the British Fantasy Society and has edited critically acclaimed anthologies, including Fine Frights. Campbell's best known works in the US are Obsession, Incarnate, Midnight Sun, and Nazareth Hill.

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Read an Excerpt

The Last Voice They Hear


By Ramsey Campbell

Tom Doherty Associates

Copyright © 1998 Ramsey Campbell
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-312-87078-2


CHAPTER 1

When the phone rang just after midnight he was sure it must be Gail. He threw a handful of cold water in his mouth to clear it of toothpaste and unhooked the receiver from the hotel bathroom wall. "Hi," he said, and then "Hello?"

He'd already heard a newsreader's voice. "Police have confirmed they believe there is a link between the murder of a Sussex couple," she said, and more that he covered up by repeating his hello. He was beginning to think he had a crossed line when he heard the close hollow sound of a face pressed against a receiver. Then the presence went away, and the broadcast voice came forward, reading another story. "This is Geoff Davenport," said Geoff, wanting to get to the end of rather too long a day. "If I'm who you're after—"

He was holding a dead lump of clammy plastic, which he returned to the wall. He switched off the anonymous glare of the bathroom and crossed the extensive panelled bedroom to the phone by the window. Beyond the parks on the far side of Princess Street, tiers of a dozen or more windows supported the gables of the tenements of old Edinburgh against the crags and a glowing stony sky. Very faintly through the double glazing he heard along one of the tracks gathered into Waverley Station a train shaking itself awake. He felt in need of doing so. He reached for the phone to ask the hotel operator if she could trace the call, and it rang.

"Geoff Davenport."

"That was worth waiting for," said Gail, her San Francisco voice hoarse yet sweet, invigorating as a cappuccino. "I hope it wasn't a playmate who stopped me getting through before."

"My only playmate's hundreds of miles away at the end of this line."

"Better had be. Sorry to call so late. The pride of the family's working on some new teeth."

"How is he now?"

"Quiet at last. Lifting weights in his sleep."

Geoff clearly saw younger than three-year-old Paul lying face up in his cot, fists half open above his head. "Will he have any new words to surprise me with when I come home?"

"He nearly said milk today if I'm not kidding myself."

"We knew he was fond of the containers."

"Takes after his dad. So who was that on the line before?"

"Must have been a wrong number. The kind that can't be bothered to say who they are."

"Not even any heavy breathing? Poor Geoff. Edinburgh's been looking after you better than that mostly, I hope."

"Plenty of books to autograph and questions to answer."

"Any awkward ones I could have helped with?"

"When's the next series of The Goods to be was the popular choice."

"To which the answer was ..."

"As far as I'm concerned, not until my favourite researcher is ready to work on it. But then I'm only the front man who was lucky enough to be asked to write the book."

"Famous presenter and best-selling writer, you mean. Maybe the channel will have brought the crèche back by the time I'm needed. And if not you're the essential one, not me."

"Without you I wouldn't be where I am now."

"So long as you aren't at the weekend, or Paul will be starting to wonder what you look like."

"Show him a tape of The Goods. Help, no, don't. I've done enough trying to live up to how makeup and the camera make me look without having to at home as well."

"How you look at home is how we like it. Better head for bed now so you can look your best for Glasgow. Or are you in bed?"

"Wish I were, with you."

"Sleep well instead. Take the phone off the hook if you like."

"You know I won't."

"That'll help me sleep," said Gail, and then there was a silence, since neither of them liked saying goodbye. "We'll call you tomorrow," she told him instead, and was gone.

Having talked to her allowed Geoff to enjoy his tiredness, of which there was at least a day's worth. He slipped beneath the quilt, the underside of which was several degrees cooler than the room. He seemed hardly to have groped for the light-switch when he was nothing but asleep.

The phone wakened him. As he grappled the receiver off its cradle he saw twelve on the bedside clock reduce itself to one, and the minutes turn into the blank eyes of a double zero. "Hello?" he demanded, wobbling into a sideways crouch draped with the quilt. "Who is it? What's—"

The voice awaiting him might almost have been a recording one hour old. "Police have confirmed they believe there is a link between the murder of a Sussex couple and several similar crimes still under investigation ..."

"Damned bloody—" Geoff snarled, then was sufficiently awake to control himself. "Whoever you are, you need help. I don't think it's my kind of help you need, but if you really want to talk to me I'd appreciate it if at least—"

He wasn't expecting the sudden violent breath in his ear. It seemed to focus the mugginess of the room on him, and made the caller feel uncomfortably close. "I can hear you," Geoff said, "and I'll tell you now—"

This time the breath was measured, and he knew the callermeant to speak. The arm that held the phone was propped on the bedside table, and Geoff used it to hitch himself into a less cramped position. As the newsreader came to the end of the story Geoff's arm began to shiver. He was about to struggle out of the posture in which he'd trapped himself when a voice spoke so close that it felt like part of him. "You didn't stop it, Geoffrey."

CHAPTER 2

As soon as Maureen stepped out of the terminal building at Heathrow the taxi driver caught her eye. She'd barely raised her eyebrows at him when he climbed out of the car. Despite his alertness, he looked sleepy-eyed. His mouth was framed by a moustache and chin-sized beard as black as his curly hair. She guessed him to be in his mid-thirties and trying to appear older. "Where to?" he said with a hint of an East End accent as he opened the passenger door.

"Not far from Windsor. I'll just wait for my husband," said Maureen, and saw Frank butt the automatic doors aside by aiming the baggage trolley at them. "You needn't have hurried, Frank."

"I'm fine now. In you get."

"I'll put your bags in for you, sir."

"Not this one," Frank said, hauling the plastic bag of bottles out of the trolley. Maureen saw him wobble on his weakened ankle as he let go of the support. He came towards her at a stumbling run that his expression couldn't quite deny was faster than he liked, and she gripped his elbow to ease him towards the taxi. "I'm fine," he repeated to convince himself.

"Just making sure you are, that's all. We don't want the grandchildren having to visit you in hospital, now do we?"

He'd only almost fallen. He'd been adjusting the bottles in the bag when he'd stepped off the travelator one pace too late and wrenched the ankle that had never been much good. As he insisted on handing Maureen ahead of him into the taxi she gave a quick kiss to the face that was still the one she'd married, even if the cheeks had grown determined to increase their girth—still the same gleam in his deep brown eyes when they met hers, the same wry grin that said there was nothing she didn't know about him. "I'm not about to lose you after all these years," she said.

The driver closed the door behind Frank, cutting off a sudden wind colder than the sea had been last night in Portugal, when Maureen and Frank had walked along the moonlit beach at midnight. In seconds the cases were loaded and the driver was at the wheel. Having driven as far as the motorway approach, he glanced at his passengers in the mirror. "Holiday, was it, or business?"

"Anniversary," said Frank.

"Our forty-first."

"Is that special, is it?"

"Twelve months more special than ruby."

"Twelve more months of her having to put up with me."

"Not too much to put up with. Nothing that's not worth it," Maureen said, patting his more than ever knuckly hand.

The driver sped the vehicle onto the motorway and overtook a horse-box that responded with a whiff of manure. "You'll be celebrating, then," he suggested, nodding in the mirror at Frank's bag.

"These are going in the cellar for next year."

"A real cellar, is that?"

"Real enough for me to have to watch out for falling down the stairs."

"Bit of a connoisseur then, are you?"

"Not just an old soak, if that's what you mean. The children and their partners help us see the bottles off."

"That's our other treat," said Maureen, "dinner with them and the children."

"Only see them once a year, do you?"

"I should say not. Christmas and birthdays and quite a few times in between. In a couple of weeks," Maureen said, by now in the mood to display family photographs if that had been practicable, "we'll have the grandchildren to stay."

The taxi veered towards the middle lane although there was no traffic ahead of it for half a mile, and Maureen shivered. The next moment the driver had compensated for the chilly gust of wind. "That'll be another treat, will it?" he said.

"For them as well."

"Especially for them if she has her way, which I can tell you she knows how to get," said Frank.

Maureen felt a little more discussed than she liked to be with someone unfamiliar. "How about you?" she asked the driver. "Married? Children?" "I should say so."

"Just the one?" Frank said.

"A lovely wife and two perfect children, what else? I bet you'd say the same."

"Most of the time," Frank admitted, and leaned away from Maureen's vengeful elbow. "Sorry, I should have told you to come off at this exit, not the Eton one."

In the few hundred yards that were left the driver ceased overtaking and found a space in the inside lane with an unruffled deftness Maureen decided was typical of him. Five minutes later they were passing through Datchet, and in less than another five they saw Windsor Castle across the fields, against an intensely blue sky cut to fit the sharp sandy outline of the tower and battlements. "Don't go too fast now or you'll miss us," Frank said as a line of trees beside the road put an end to the view. "Just on the left where the sign on the tree is."

An abrupt curve had brought the For Sale board in sight. Maureen wasn't expecting the pang of regret with which it affected her. Though this hadn't been their first house, it was their best, to which Hilary and Arthur had kept returning from their universities, more welcome and more civilised each time. It wasn't sold yet, she was glad to think as the taxi turned along the concealed drive.

Beyond the trees that screened it from the road the front of the house was as white as the teeth of its fence, except for the doors and windows, which were even redder than the roses arching over the gate. A wood pigeon strutted along the russet tiles of the steep roof before flapping down onto the garage, a simplified miniature of the shape of the house. The bird sailed cooing towards Windsor as the taxi halted on the square of gravel cornered by the garage and the fence. "You go in," the driver said. "I'll bring your bags."

"That's kind," said Maureen, and linked arms with Frank on the pieced-together stone path. She unlocked the front door and typed a message to the alarm while Frank stayed on the porch to pay the driver. "Thank you, Mr. Denton," he said.

"Thank you," said the driver, apparently unsurprised at having had his name remembered from the cab. When Frank stuck out a hand he shook it, having unstudded and peeled off one of his black leather gloves, which he drew on again as he made for the gate. He backed the taxi along the drive and waved to the watching couple as he was lost to view.

"Helpful sort of chap," Frank said, stooping to the suitcases, "but you'd have jumped if he'd touched you, his hands were so cold."

"Warm heart," Maureen responded. Then, though she couldn't have said why, she discarded the old notion. "On second thoughts, I don't think so. Not him."

CHAPTER 3

Though Jess Bennett was ten minutes early for work, the moment she walked into the small stark office Harry Adrian stood up from the switchboard as if she was late. One look at her eyes, and he confined himself to a mumble of "How're they hanging?," the feminised version of his greeting to the drivers. At least there weren't any drowned stubs in the plastic cups she had to bin from the top of the switchboard and the low table in front of the faded creaky chairs where the drivers waited for calls; indeed, both Nikos and Muhammed were smoking on the pavement beyond the reception area with its flabby armchairs and its drinks machine. "Quiet so far," Harry complained to her, and was off to whichever of his pair of women was having him that night. That was women for you, Jess thought—long-suffering until they realised they'd suffered enough. That had certainly been her with Rex the Ex.

She spun the wobbly swivel chair up to give herself some leg room, and promised herself she was going to convince Harry to replace at least that piece of furniture before it showed the rest how to collapse. She took her crossword magazine and a ballpoint from her bag before perching on the chair. Her short clingy skirt rode up her long thighs, and she used her palms to draw it down an inch. She was dressing to please herself, but it made her wish she had never dressed, let alone the opposite, for Rex.

Maybe at twenty-eight, two years of which he'd had, she was no longer young enough for him, or maybe her legs weren't long enough. Maybe he'd meant her to see him in their very first restaurant, the one she would have proposed for their anniversary next week—see him sitting in the window with the receptionist from the car showrooms where he worked, as if to show the passing crowd how spectacular her legs were. One glimpse of the way they'd been holding hands across the table and gazing into each other's eyes had been all Jess could take, but she'd marched onward, laughing and pretending to her friends she hadn't seen, pretending once it became clear they had that it didn't matter because really she'd already known. Perhaps she had indeed known she was losing him when he'd realised her growing concern for her parents must leave her less time for him.

If that showed what a self-centred bastard he was, oughtn't she to have known sooner? Maybe she had only needed to admit it to herself. By now she'd passed beyond crying herself to sleep over him and imagining suitably horrible revenges for him to suffer, and had turned the glare of her examination on herself. By now he'd given up attempting to contact her, so that she stopped thinking of him as soon as the phone rang. "Twenty-four Hour Knights," she told the microphone in her best welcoming voice.

It was a call to one of the pubs where Harry had stuck up a card by the phone, probably pocketing another firm's card as he did so. Jess didn't much care for that trick, and wouldn't do it herself, though other firms did it to them. She had just located a taxi within half a mile of the pub and sent it when the street door opened and Pete Denton appeared, patting his curly hair down with both hands. "Borrow my comb if you need one," Jess told him.

While she wouldn't have said that to most people, she'd seen how fastidious he was, not to mention tidy. His gaze found hers and his neat mouth framed a smile. "Only making sure I was presentable to the fair sex."

"When I'm here I'm just one of the boys."

"I'm sure you could never be just anything." He didn't wait for a reaction. "How's your dad?" he said.

"Doesn't know what time it is any more, specially when it's time to sleep."

"Is your mother still on top of it?"

"She's moved into my old room, but she doesn't get much sleep for listening to him. Three o'clock this morning she had to stop him phoning me to ask if I'll be there for Sunday dinner, as if I'm not always. It's not his fault. Sometimes I don't think he even knows who he is."

"What about the drug you want to try on him?"

"All the family have been at him to accept some medication, all the aunts and uncles. He mostly won't admit there's anything wrong with him, and when he does he forgets he has."

"Do you—"

"Hold on," said Jess, and listened to the headphone she hadn't raised in order to talk to him. "Five minutes," she told the caller, and informed Pete "Two loads going to the West End."


(Continues...)

Excerpted from The Last Voice They Hear by Ramsey Campbell. Copyright © 1998 Ramsey Campbell. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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