Title: Ash

Author: James Herbert

Type: Fiction

Page Count/Review Word Count: 696

Rating: 3.5/5

This is probably the most interesting of the three David Ash books, and I’m not sure if part of that is because it’s a longer book and so there’s more room for him to play around. It was also the last book that he wrote before he passed away, and so there’s a sort of weird historical interest just because of that.

That also makes this the third and final book in the series, and I do feel as though it benefits from that. It took a ittle while for these books to build up steam, and the first book felt almost like a half-finished novel as opposed to a novella. Book number two, The Ghosts of Sleath, was a little better, but I feel like it’s taken until this one to really hit the sweet spot.

It also has a pretty cool concept which reeled me in as soon as I started reading. Basically, Ash is called upon to investigate some paranormal goings-on at a Scottish castle which is known for being a retreat that’s used by the ultra-rich. The thing is that as well as being a retreat, it’s kind of like a jail. Once they become a guest there, they never leave.

Now, because there’s a decent helping of mystery here, I don’t want to say too much and risk spoiling the plot for you. Instead, I can give some more top-line opinions, along with the way that it made me feel. I think the characterisation in particular is worth mentioning, although David Ash still kind of irritates me and I can’t help feeling like he was a bit of a waste of space. It’s the secondary characters that shine here, and I can cope with that.

I also liked that Ash was able to create such a sense of dread and isolation around the main location. Even when things weren’t going wrong, the place itself is off the beaten track. Once the paranormal stuff starts to kick in, we start to see just how isolated the place really is.

There are downsides too, and perhaps the biggest is the fact that this is the last book that Herbert wrote. It’s not that it’s bad, but I still think I would have preferred one of his standalones, especially as his swan song. He tends to do a better job with those.

Still, there’s a lot to like here and I was pretty happy with it, even though it started to drag a little towards the end. That happens a lot with books of this kind of length, and I don’t think it was necessarily a fault of Herbert’s. It’s just that I’ve read three David Ash books in rapid succession, and so it’s only natural for me to be pretty much over them.

I think that what’s interesting about this book (and the Ash series in general) is that they show a variant on the traditional haunted house story. That can only be a good thing, because I feel like Herbert got it just right with The Secret of Crickley Hall, and so it’s nice to see him working with haunted villages and haunted Castles. If haunted is even the right word to use here.

There were little bits and bobs that I would have changed, and I also think that it could have benefited from a little further editing and a shorter word count, but it is what it is. Plus it’s worth reading if only because of the conspiracy style angle to it, which is probably what made this book so controversial when it was first released.

But that’s what you get when you write about the rich and famous and dare to criticise them. If anything, I’d argue that Herbert didn’t take it far enough and that he could have done a lot more with the concept, but then that would have taken the focus away from the paranormal goings on that are at the heart of the novel. It would have sacrificed the story in exchange for making an interesting statement.

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