Tuesday, December 11, 2012
Ash by James Herbert
I came to James Herbert fairly late for a horror fan. My first of his books was Haunted, the first book to feature David Ash. It was a used bookstore find - in hardcover - and understandably a cherished addition to my book collection (it's in PERFECT condition and I expect will last through many, many rereads for years to come). Haunted was released in 1988 and was followed by a second David Ash book, The Ghosts of Sleath, in 1994. Surely rumors of the third David Ash book began much earlier than 2009, but that was when I first came across them and that's how long I've been anxiously awaiting the release of Ash, which hit shelves today.
If you can picture the dorky happy dance I did when the doorstopper 700-page finished copy of Ash arrived, you'll fall off your chair laughing. But it's true, and I dropped everything to start reading over the weekend.
We were good, me and Ash, up through a little over 1/3 of the book. Then it started to unravel. First the premise:
It's been two years since the events at Sleath and parapsychologist David Ash feels he's finally recovered. So does his boss, Kate McCarrick. It's fortunate really, as the Psychical Research Institute is about to take on a huge case and David is the perfect man for the job. A secret organization called the Inner Court owns a hush, hush facility in Scotland. Comraich Castle is a sanitorium of sorts, a sanctuary for the very wealthy and the very disturbed. The Castle has been experiencing an escalation in the weird and inexplicable and the powers that be are convinced the events are supernatural in origin. Before David can investigate, though, he and the Institute are sworn to secrecy. To break their contract and reveal anything about Comraich would mean harsh monetary repercussions. As such, David is the only investigator to be allowed on the grounds of Comraich. When he arrives, David finds himself completely cut off from the outside world. No communication with Kate or the Institute and no way to leave Comraich until the job is done. And what a job it is! Comraich Castle is surrounded by an air of menace. As David learns more about the history of the castle and the recent events, he becomes convinced that the origins are indeed supernatural. And there's nothing he can do to stop what comes next.
One of my favorite things about Herbert is his attention to detail in building atmosphere AND his completely gory horror. It makes for hair-raising, stomach clenching reading - a great combination in horror where you more often only get one of the two.
Unfortunately, a lot of Ash is simply repetition. Multiple mentions of the same details (in almost the same wording). And surprisingly what seemed like a lot of contradiction as well. I have to chalk this up to editing and wonder how much time was actually spent on that part of the process.
Another big, big issue here was the romance. A lot of people loathe and hate instalove. I'm not a fan but if it had been the only issue with this book, I might have been more forgiving. If it had been worked in just a bit better, I might have been more forgiving. Instead, David Ash falls instantly in love with Delphine Wyatt as soon as she steps onto the plane he's boarded to travel to Comraich. Yes. That night, they're doing the nasty like it's the end of the world (and it's not -- yet). I get it. David needed to establish a strong emotional connection in a short span of time. He's only supposed to be at Comraich for a week (he says three days) and he's got to want to save someone! But, jeez! There are better ways to go about it.
Maybe I'm being too harsh. Maybe it's simply that waiting for three years for a third installment in a series that I've gone ga ga over was too much pressure. Maybe Ash was destined to disappoint me from the get go. Maybe not. If this had been any other author, I'd still have to criticize the same things.
I was ok with the secret hideout for elite criminals. That was fine. I was ok with MOST of the ties to popular British history - I won't go into the one that jumped the shark for me, but yes, there was one that went beyond even my limit. I was ok with David and Kate. I was even ok with the lengthy but unnecessary first explanation of the Inner Court (unnecessary because Kate gets it and then it's reiterated to David. As the reader, we only need it once.). But the other issues I mentioned above combined with all of these things and many more made this a torturous read.
Why?! Why?! This should have been one of my favorites of the year. So sad.