This is my first James Herbert novel. As most of you know, I’m trying to round out my Horror reading. People have been telling me over and over that James Herbert is the guy. Since Herbert had a new novel coming out, I thought that this was a good time jump in.
ASH (Amazon) follows the story of paranormal investigator, David Ash. Now, prior to this novel, Ash was also in the Herbert novels HAUNTED and THE GHOSTS OF SLEATH. To Herbert’s credit, I never once had trouble with feeling lost. ASH begins with the investigator taking a job to investigate some mysterious happenings at Comraich Castle–including the crucifixion of a man who was alone inside a locked room. Everything about the contract is shady, but the pay is astounding.
Once again, this is a horror novel. Once the reader is told that the Scottish castle is an asylum/refuge for some the insanely (heh) rich, you pretty much will think to yourself, “Well, there’s no way this ends well.”
The story is told in that 3rd Person Omniscient style that many Horror authors seem to favor. Herbert executes it well, and I was never once confused. In the beginning, the suspense and feeling of impending doom/terror is perfectly done. Seriously. It make me jealous, and I’m doing my best to study it for my own writing. Absolutely killer. David Ash is a great character, and he is well written as the broken man who has lost everything on more than one occasion.
Side characters are a mixed bag. Sometimes they are just terrific. Other times–sometimes even with the same character–I was left scratching my head. For example, the main female character is pretty good for most of the story, but Herbert introduces a sexual past that feels incredibly forced. Worse, the side characters rarely matter–especially the “guests” of the castle. We are forced to read their sordid backgrounds, very few of which matter at all. I’m not exaggerating. Most of them are just thrown in for a supposed “cool factor”. Instead, they feel like filler, and are often poorly executed.
The first half of the novel is entertaining. The hauntings in this castle are pretty awesome. The descriptions are fantastic, and it shows where Herbert feels he most comfortable.
And then things spiral out of control. And I don’t mean this in a good way.
Foreshadowing is clumsy. Characters make dumb decisions. Ash has the same argument with a dozen different people multiple times. Information is withheld using the excuse of “that’s confidential”. The thrill of the mystery slowly fades away, and is replaced by a convoluted, contrived story dealing with Nazis.
ASH has great ideas, but the weight of a preponderance of issues wore my impression down to a nub of mediocrity by the time this door-stopper ended.
The most unforgivable part about the story is the ending. Without spoiling any actual details, it was frustrating when Ash doesn’t actually do anything. His entire purpose in the story was pointless. The events would have happened the same way regardless of his involvement. The whole novel I was wondering what kind of crazy thing Ash was going to do to expel these hauntings… and instead the situation resolves itself.
In the end, I liked Herbert’s ideas, but I think this story sounded better in the outline and just couldn’t stand under the weight of its issues. I’m left feeling that ASH was stunningly mediocre. I almost didn’t like it, but the first half of the novel was good enough to keep it from drowning completely.
Will I give Herbert another chance? Yes. From what I understand he is either stunningly terrific, of horribly mediocre. ASH falls into the latter category.
- Recommended Age: 18+
- Language: Tons, depending on the character
- Violence: In extreme amounts, and very
- Sex: One of the most awkward, poorly written and long sex scenes I've ever read. Tons of references to rape, incest, homosexuality, etc...