Book Review: Ash by James Herbert

The last bow of David Ash, the only protagonist of James Herbert’s books to have appeared in more than one novel. That’s not a plot spoiler by the way; Herbert died shortly after publication of this book. Any chance that the character would appear in any more books ended with the author’s death. David Ash also featured in Haunted and The Ghosts of Sleath which are similar in theme to this.

Changed (and not necessarily for the better) by his experiences in the sleepy village of Sleath, and losing the woman he loved there, David Ash is back working as a parapsychologist. These days he is not quite as sceptical as he once was thanks to the incidents of the previous books, neither of which he could ignore. Ash is requested, with the promise of a very generous fee (a fee that his needed for his struggling organisation), to travel to Scotland to visit the mysterious highland castle of Comraich which is home to a number of very disturbed and very rich “guests” undergoing various therapies and psychological treatments. Part hospital, part retreat, the castle has recently been the centre of an increase of strange paranormal goings on that have no explanation even though it has a dark and sombre past. The wealthy owner of the castle wants Ash to investigate.

This is a fairly typical ghost story – to a point. If you have read The Ghosts of Sleath, Haunted or even The Secret of Crickley Hall, the early parts of the book will feel very familiar and so will the slow build up, the number of jumps dotted throughout the book, the cold and oppressive setting, the dark past and the investigator. I said “to a point” and later on, lengthy parts of the book are given over the exposition of conspiracy theories regarding Hitler and the Royal Family. This all gets quite tiresome at times and I just want it to get back the ghost story, but there is more going on than that.

If you’re a long term fan of Herbert, you will know what to expect. Some of his writing feels a little out of date, how easily Ash falls in love with an attractive woman. It feels a little forced at times and though in this book Ash’s love interest is a little more animated and has much more about her, it still feels contrived and as though Herbert feels a love interest should be obligatory where there is a male and a female lead, but at least unlike many of his contemporaries, his female characters are not merely window dressing.

Anyway, I am digressing. That’s the main downside of Ash, but Herbert’s writing is very much a product of his time and easily forgiven. The other downside is the convoluted web of conspiracy which is less engaging than it should be. The story eventually collapses under the weight of it’s own plotting. Too many underused characters, too many plot threads that go nowhere; sorry to say that this was a disappointing final outing for David Ash.

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