Walking home from church, six year old Amy Priestly grips her parents' hands tightly as they approach Nazareth Hill, an ancient, burnt out structure that looms over the city of Partington. Despite her parent's presence, Amy is uneasy, certain the house is interested in her. Wanting her to confront her fear, her father swings her onto his shoulders and forces her to look through a shattered window. Inside, Amy sees a ghastly creature reaching for her--shocked, she nearly topples from her perch. Knowing they won't understand, she never tells her parents about what she witnessed.
Ten years later, that incident long forgotten, Amy and her widowed father move into Nazareth Hill, now a luxury apartment building. Accustomed to being at odds with her dad because of her bizarre appearance and attitudes, she at first dismisses his increasingly erratic behavior. When he becomes more dictatorial, and adopts the speech patterns of a bygone era, she wonders if their new home is causing the problem. Curious, Amy looks into the building's past , discovering its disquieting history. Built on a site sacred to witches, the building formerly housed an insane asylum, where inmates were brutalized.
Amy comes to realize that past events have imprinted themselves on the house, and that its current occupants are replaying the obscene dramas that took place within its walls. By the time her father's discipline becomes persecution, it's too late. Overcome by madness, Mr. Priestly imprisons Amy in her room. Cut off from the rest of the world, Amy fights to stay sane and alive.
This novel, squarely in the tradition of The Haunting of Hill House and The Shining, reworks traditional subject matter while addressing timeless issues. Campbell focuses on the persecution of the outsider, demonstrating that those who are different will always be subject to scorn, derision and abuse. In the 1700s it was witches; in the 1800s it was the mentally ill. In our century, it is people like Amy, who has chosen to adopt a punk/goth lifestyle. Her attitudes and strange appearance make her an easy target for the citizens of Partington, and gives the evil in Nazareth Hill something to exploit.
The book is especially noteworthy due to Campbell's talents as a stylist. In a time where many authors choose to write down to their audience, Campbell's prose is a breath of fresh air. Campbell's writing demands (and earns) a reader's attention--each word is carefully chosen for maximum impact. He creates an atmosphere of fear word by word, building towards the novel's tragic conclusion.
Of course, there's plenty of gruesome stuff going on too--cats are hung, tongues are amputated, and specters stalk the living--but Campbell doesn't rely solely on shock to create fear. A craftsman, he builds to these shocks, wringing the maximum emotional impact from each scene. By the time readers turn the last page, they'll be worn out, but may have gained some insight into the nature of prejudice. Nazareth Hill represents Ramsey Campbell at the very top of his form, and as such is not to be missed.