‘I could cheerfully shoot the guy who wrote those bloody horror books about rats’
So says Ash, the title hero of the latest book from British horror writer James Herbert. And to be perfectly honest, after reading Ash, I could quite heartily agree.
It wasn’t that I didn’t like the book, I did enjoy reading it. However, there were several things that all worked together to leave me less than satisfied with this latest offering.
We first met Ash in Herbert’s Haunted. That book remains to this day the only book where I was scared reading it. I have been horrified with other books and shuddered at some of the content, but one passage in Haunted had me shaking as I read it.
Now Ash returns in his own self-titled novel. The skeptical supernatural investigator is called upon to sort out strange events at a secret castle retreat in remote Scotland. This place is run by a secret organisation, who look after ‘special’ guests, a conspiracy theorists gold mine. The castle has its own curse and Ash, has his own demons to conquer. Yes, this has everything, and more, that a good horror story needs. But is it perhaps just a little too formulaic?
It is six years since Herbert’s previous novel, The Secret of Crickly Hall. But it doesn’t feel like he has been spending those six years writing this follow-up. I don’t know any extenuating circumstances so I have taken the book as I found it.
Is there an editor in the
One major issue is that events in the story are pretty much condensed into one day. Now I know that in this digital age we are all about efficiency and productivity but the amount that Ash and the other protagonists fit into one day is beyond belief – and this is fiction. I wonder whether originally the events were spread across two or more days but at some point the story was condensed. However, this should have been picked up and sorted by the publisher.
Herbert is great at endings. Often there are nice little plot twists or very clever conclusions (see Creed). But Ash seemed to end more with a whimper. It may have been due to there not being just one adversary, but I believe it could have been handled better. Stephen King often gives thanks to his editor who’s constructive criticism keeps him on track, I’m not sure how much feedback Herbert got throughout the process of this novel.
Herbert doesn’t write Booker prize material, his fans, and I am one, don’t expect that. His novels are great, supernatural, popular horror. The problem is that this felt more like a first novel. As a first novel I would have accepted the copy errors, the writer’s craftsmanship and the horror cliches, a little easier.
I have to conclude that I was disappointed with Ash, not because it was bad, but because I was hoping and expecting so much more from, as the cover proudly proclaims, ‘The number one chiller writer’.
But you may disagree, and that’s one of the joys of reading. I may have been disappointed with Ash, but if spiders, flies, apparitions, mutants, dungeons, wild animals, secret organisations, ancient curses and revenge are your thing, then you may need to leave the light on as you read this