Ash by James Herbert: The Final Journey

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I will admit that I had no idea that another David Ash book existed until I read the obituary-type articles after James Herbert died this month. Despite my obvious shock at the news that one of my favourite horror writers (he has always had a place of honour in my very small stable of great horror master’s) had been dispatched to the great unknown realms of death, I was intrigued  enough to buy an eBook copy for reading.

As a grand finale or final gesture, it was the best David Ash story yet. Although, if you look at the reviews on Goodreads, it appears that I am in the minority of readers who actually enjoyed the book. I am left wondering if those critical of the tale even read the same tome that I just finished. It is, to be frank, puzzling.

In this last ever David Ash investigation, David has been obligated by his employer Kate McCarrick to find the cause of the violent hauntings at Comraich Castle; a sanctuary for the criminal rich who can afford it. Run by the shadowy and overly influential Inner Circle, the castle’s dangerous spirits have already injured one paying guest and the spokesman for the Comraich, Sir Simon Maseby wants the haunting stopped at all costs.

While travelling in the Castle‘s private jet, David meets Dr Delphine Wyatt, the exotically beautiful psychologist who works at the retreat and who will turn out to be his only ally in his upcoming battle with the ancient evil that is trying to destroy Comraich Castle. An evil whose power has grown beyond all expectations and is aided by a living evil who also wants to destroy the Castle and all those in it.

James Herbert’s last book has everything but the kitchen sink in it. He has returned to his roots as a writer and once again has grabbed his readers by the lapel and screamed in their face.

I loved it.

His story of the intrigue and the corruption that permeates the government and the royal family is mesmerizing. The depiction of the “inner circle'” group who orchestrates the cover-ups that prevent the royal’s and the government from horrific publicity is, quite frankly, scary on its own. Add to this the evil that has grown so powerful that it can harm living beings and influence their actions makes this mix of terror damn near too scary for comfort.

There are a bunch of Scottish wildcats who “haunt” the hunting grounds around the castle that will give you nightmares and they are just a small portion of the evil things that lurk in the shadowy recesses of the castles halls and dungeons.

I could not turn the electronic pages fast enough as I became immersed in David Ash’s last ever case. When I finally reached the end of the book, I let out a sigh of relief and sadness as I realised that I’d never again get to vicariously live through any further David Ash adventures.

I am going to miss James Herbert’s prodigious output of work, he averaged a book a year, and not once was I unimpressed with his story and the originality of his plots and the comfortable feelings that his characters evoked. Unless of course they were scarily evil then the feelings that they generated were not of a comfortable ilk.

In my humble opinion, which is the only opinion that I can have, it is the best David Ash yet. It is always a very bittersweet experience reading the  last ever adventure of one of your favourite characters. I had the same feeling when I read the last ever Travis McGee book. Of course that was slightly different as I read the book before I’d learned of the author’s (John D MacDonald) passing. But the feeling was the same when I thought of the book.

So Rest In Peace David Ash, may you never be forgotten as one of the most believable creations of the fertile mind that was James Herbert.

A real 5 star ending to a 5 star character.

Author James Herbert promoting his last book on the bbc September 2012.
Author James Herbert promoting his last book on the bbc September 2012. RIP James.

RIP James Herbert (8 April 1943 – 20 March 2013): Ash to Ashes

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My good friend John Mountain over at Written in Blood was kind enough to “inadvertently” inform me of author James Herbert‘s death. I’d been “out of sync” with real life matters and in so doing had missed the news of Herbert’s untimely death on Wednesday the 20th of March this year.

He will be greatly missed.

James Herbert was initially an art director for an advertising agency (courtesy of Wikipedia) before becoming a full-time writer. A writer who designed his own book covers and did all his own publicity. He was also a writer who used to “scare the pants” off me and his other faithful readers.

With his novel The Rats and the subsequent sequels to it, Lair and Domain, he gave me an almost pathological fear of English rats. His vermin villains were bigger and smarter than your average British rat and in 2008 when I visited my daughter in her first apartment at Uni and saw a rat as big as a small dog, it wasn’t ringing the council that first sprang to my mind, it was James Herbert and his über scary rats.

Stephen King once said of Herbert that he was the type author who “grabbed his reader’s lapels and screamed into their faces [sic]” and his early books did just that. Who can forget the images that his scenes of horror evoked?

The legless dog stumping towards the letterbox in The Dark; the harsh headmaster who has his genitals cut off in The Fog; and as mentioned above, the rats in The Rats.

But his horror story skills evolved over the years, just as his novels evolved. He could tell a damned fine fantasy horror story and stories that, although steeped in the horror verse, were more sophisticated and complex than his earlier works. He had made the transition from the “pulps” to the slick world of mainstream horror fiction.  I have read every book published by James Herbert and loved them all.

But my favourite books of Herbert’s dealt with David Ash. The guilt-ridden paranormal investigator who fought an internal battle against his own psychic abilities. The man who was haunted by first his own sister and later by an entire family of ghosts in Haunted; then an entire village in The Ghosts of Sleath  and finally with the ghosts (?) in an exclusive madhouse in Ash; his last book published just before his untimely death.

Years ago, I had the pleasure of seeing James Herbert on late-night telly. He has come on some program not to plug his latest book, but because he a was a rock fan who was actually touting his favourite bands next tour. He wore a heavy metal t-shirt and his hair was long and he seemed like one helluva nice guy.

I remember thinking, ‘That’s James Herbert??’ The guy who has managed to scare the hell out of me in almost all his books? I was shocked at just how nice the chap seemed. Herbert, who was awarded an OBE  in 2010, was an author who never really quite believed his success and never really felt comfortable with the praise and adulation that his books brought about.

I am, rather sadly, reading the last book of Herbert’s (Ash) and while reading it I can’t help but ponder a world without James Herbert. His books sold over 42 million copies worldwide (Wikipedia) and he has been a personal favourite of mine ever since I first picked up one of his books (The Fog – 1975) in 1982 from a USAF base bookstore.

Apart from my heartfelt sympathy for his family (his wife and three daughters) and close friends I’d like to express my own fond farewell. “So long mate, I say mate because in my mind I feel that anyone who can so consistently entertain and scare the bejeezus out of me is a friend.  You certainly brought more than your fair share of talent to the party. You will be missed by me and millions of other people around the world. Rest in peace mate.”

RIP James Herbert (8 April 1943 – 20 March 2013).
RIP James Herbert (8 April 1943 – 20 March 2013).