"Ash" Book Review
Written by Steve Pattee
Published by Tor Books
Written by James Herbert
2012, 693 pages, Fiction
Released on December 11th, 2012
While he is the author of 19 novels and the bestselling horror author in the UK, I had never had the pleasure of reading a James Herbert novel until 2011, when I read The Secret of Crickley Hall. Thoroughly impressed with it, I was a fast fan and immediately looked forward to reading more of his work. So when his latest book Ash arrived for review, I was understandably excited. Especially after I found that the plot centered around a skeptical ghost hunter. What I wasn't prepared for was the sheer amount of letdown I was in for.
The third book in the David Ash series (the first two being Haunted and The Ghosts of Sleath), the story follows our titular character as he is assigned to investigate Comraich Castle, a place that is hidden in Scotland and has a unique and sometimes notorious clientele. After one of the castle's "guests" is found brutally murdered – in a locked room, no less – Ash is sent in to determine if the killing was supernatural in nature. However, due to those staying at the castle, Ash is forced to sign an in-depth confidentiality agreement and cover this huge piece of property himself, all over the course of a weekend. If that's not bad enough, there is nothing that can prepare him for the evil that resides in Comraich Castle, and it may cost him his life.
Ash suffers from numerous problems, the main of which is its length. Coming in at just under 700 pages, the novel is entirely too wordy for its own good. Large pieces of work don't intimidate me; hell, I try to read Stephen King's The Stand once a year or so, and that one clocks in at well over 1,000 pages. So when I first started Ash (and with my mind on The Secret of Crickley Hall), I was actually fine with its page count. All it meant to me was more enjoyment. Yet here, it seems as Herbert is writing just for the sake of writing. For example, here's a random sentence from a random page, "The young apprentice had strolled up to the prestigious shiny black front door and read the polished brass nameplate." Seriously? "Prestigious shiny black front door"? Not only is this not necessary, but it takes what could be a fantastic 300-page read and turns it into a bloated 700-page ego stroke. It wouldn't be so bad if it happened here and there, but you can open about any given page and find an example of just too much.
If it just being too wordy was its only issue, I could get around it. But the other main issue with Ash is the relationship that is established between Ash and Delphine, the castle's in-house psychiatrist. Having met her on the plane ride from England, the two espoused their love for one another within about 24 hours. The way these two act around each other is both eye rolling and stomach turning. If they were young teenagers, I could certainly buy it. That's what teens do. They fall in lust, think it's love and act all goofy. But when you see grown ass adults doing it, it's ridiculous, unrealistic, and drags the story to its knees in parts. Hell, cut out that entire asinine subplot and you shave off at least 100 unneeded pages right there.
The most frustrating aspect of Ash, though, is it's not all bad and you can see what a terrific book it could have been if it had been more tightly edited. The actual idea of Comraich Castle and the people that inhabit it (which I won't spoil should you want to read it) is pretty fascinating. The evil that is the source of all the bad happenings is effectively creepy. And the history of the location could be a great read on its own. Unfortunately, none of this is enough to save Ash. It's too bloated, the writing too pompous, and the relationship of Ash and Delphine too absurd to maintain your interest for 700 pages.