Monday, 24 June 2013

Ashes To Ashes: A Review of James Herbert's 'Ash'

Fan? Much? My cluttered bookshelf
Earlier this year, one of my favourite author's James Herbert, one of the most well-renowned horror writers, passed away.  He was 69 years old, no cause of death was published and, in my opinion, he has left a gaping hole in the world of horror fiction.

'Ash' was Herbert's last, and potentially his most controversial, novel to date.  A mammoth paperback at nearly 700 pages long, Just this fact alone set it apart from his usual quick-scare paperbacks.  The artwork was a mark of Herbert's usual foreboding, ghoulish imagery, but the tone of the book immediately felt slower paced, easing you in with several character introductions.  All this from a man who, in 'The Dark' (my first descent into Herbert-madness), shocked his reader with a particularly nasty killing by a 4 year-old, just 5 pages in.

Herbert chose to re-visit one of his familiar characters, skeptical and moody psychic investigator David Ash,for this story.  Those familiar with his character, will no doubt remember the traumas he suffered in 'Ghosts of Sleath' and 'Haunted', yet his indifference and quest to find rational explanations for strange goings-on remains un-perturbed.  Ash is hired by a mysterious group of people who run the equally mysterious 'Comraich Castle', a secret home from home for the both very rich and very disturbed, when a terrible and seemingly supernatural murder occurs within the grounds.  Cue exposed secrets, reams of 'dead' celebrity psychopaths, some particularly nasty and bloodthirsty wildcats and the suggestion of a secret royal son residing in the grounds, as the reader is taken on a twisted journey with Ash and his sudden sidekick, psychologist Delphine.

All in all, Herbert's last masterpiece is everything you would both want and expect from a horror story.  Herbert manages to provide his usual mix of grisly murders and intrigue throughout even if, at times it felt as though some of the most important characters and plot points were glossed over in favour of love scenes.  There were still plenty of shocks, gore and scares to carry me through the pages, though I didn't stay as gripped as I had done his other books, The Magic Cottage still being an unbeaten favourite.

I don't know if I felt this because I read this book post Herbert's death, but there was something chillingly finite about this book.  The controversy of the inclusion of such characters as Lord Lucan and other notable murderers from history, alongside Herbert's own dig at his previous works such as The Rats, suggest to me that he may even have known his time on this earth was limited, hence giving himself the freedom to push even more boundaries.  Either way, the lagging pace at certain points didn't make this book any less than enjoyable than the others and if Herbert wanted you to ponder the blurred line between fact and fiction ever after, he succeeded in doing so, in his unique, horrific way. 

Coming soon: A review of Jeanette Winterson's 'Why Be Happy, When You Could Be Normal?' 

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