“Ash” by James Herbert (Tor, 2012)


In Ash, bestselling British horror writer James Herbert does what he hasn’t done too often in his career, in bringing back another character.  The parapsychologist David Ash first appeared in Herbert’s Haunted in 1988, and then returned in The Ghosts of Sleath in 1994.  Ash is now back in his eponymous book, a lengthy 700-pager from the British master of horror.

Things are not going too well for the Psychical Institute; times are hard and apparently when money is stretched thin, people don’t need as much helping in dealing with their ghosts.  But then the ultimate case arrives and the head of the institute, Kate McKean, can’t really say no, as it will mean a lot of money for them, keeping them afloat for a number of years.  It involves the haunting of a secretly hidden castle deep within Scotland run by a clandestine group that is incredibly rich.  Comraich Castle is where the world’s richest send their human problems, such as wanted murderers, failed warlords, illegitimate children, and the insane offspring of celebrities.  Here they are kept, fed and looked after for years, or even decades, until they just waste away. McKean has brought in her best parapsychologist, David Ash.  It’s a risky move, as Ash has been through a lot in the past, losing loved ones and turning into an alcoholic at one point.  But this is his big chance and he’s really great at what he does.

Ash travels up to Scotland on a private jet that mid-flight suffers a failure when everything just shuts off, plunging toward the ground, and then miraculously everything comes back on and the plane resumes flight, with the pilots completed stumped as to what happened.  It serves a strong warning sign of what is to come for Ash.  As he begins his investigation with his tools of the trade, he finds little support from the staff at Comraich Castle, and then things just explode into the bizarre and seemingly impossible.  Wild cats in the forest attacking, giant spiders deep beneath the castle in the caves, the insane locked in the dungeons uprising, and a series of hauntings that traumatize the guests.

Ash is a strange book in that it is overly long, with many pages of little happening and things just slowly passing by, and then launching into overly-dramatic action scenes that stretch out for pages and pages.  Some parts are interesting and contemplative, such as some of the unusual guests at the castle, or Comraich’s dark and twisted history stretching back into medieval times.  But then Herbert adds too much, with this clandestine group that has reaches into the government and royal family, akin to the Illuminati to the point where it starts to feel like a Dan Brown book; and then there’s the supposed unwanted strange child of the late Princess Diana that few have ever known about.

There are certainly some good points in Ash, and Herbert makes his book intriguing.  Unfortunately, it feels as if the author lost his way when writing it, wanting to add more and more plot and subplot, and make it longer and longer, when it really should have been better edited and honed as a story.  David Ash is a fractured character who also never seems to get his resolution in this at all, as things just seem to fall into place a little too easy for him, which seems pivotal when as a parapsychologist he’s not even sure what he really believes.  Overall the book feels uncertain and unsure of itself, which in turn sets the reader adrift.

Originally written on February 7, 2013 ©Alex C. Telander.

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