The Ghosts of Sleath by James Herbert: David Ash Revisited

I don’t know why I didn’t realise that I’d read this book before. I mean the odds were in favour of it most definitely; published in 1994 by an author I adore. It should have rung a bell, but did not. So when I saw a hardback version of the book for sale in Tesco’s book section, I got excited.

When I got home and googled the book I saw that it was another David Ash book, the first since his appearance in Haunted. I did think it odd that the book had been published in 1994. This fact alone made dredge my aging memory banks and nothing came up. So I excitedly reserved a copy with my local Library and within two days, it arrived.

Unfortunately, the first paragraph of the book brought memories cascading back and I knew before I’d finished the second sentence that I’d read it before. I was not too upset; I am, by my very nature, a “re-reader” of books. I will revisit my favourite author’s offerings again and again. Usually finding something I missed the first ten times I’ve read the book. I read very, very fast and tend to “skip” read a lot; I get caught up in the action and  furiously flip pages to reach the end of the story.

The Ghosts of Sleath features David Ash who, when we last saw him, was in a bit of a bad way. For the Ash novice, David is a psychic. He works for a paranormal institute and has an on-again-off-again affair with his boss Kate McCarrick. He’s an alcoholic whose speciality is debunking ghosts and haunted places. The vast majority of the paranormal “professional” world; psychics, mediums and seers hate him.

David is very good at what he does.

This is the second of the David Ash books and we can only hope that Mr Herbert has a few more Ash tales up his sleeve. His character is interesting and flawed and not especially nice but, like his boss Kate you find yourself drawn to him. His sister drowned when he was a small boy and he has been haunted by the incident and her ever since. It was his connection with his sister that got him involved with the hauntings at Edbrook; hauntings that threatened David’s sanity and his life. (Haunted 1994)

The beginning of the book sees David waiting for the ghost of the Sleep Angel at a retirement care home. The “angel” has been responsible for three deaths in the home so far. David catches the “ghost” who is in fact not dead but very much living in the guise of a staff member of the home. Objective accomplished he reports to Kate and is told to visit Sleath, a small village that is being plagued by several spectral visitors.

When David arrives at Sleath, he finds a picture postcard rural English village that is almost hostile to outsiders. When he sorts out lodging for his stay he finds the owner of the pub/inn is pleased at the prospect of having no more than one guest. Visitors to Sleath are not welcome. In fact, as David finds out from the local vicar’s daughter Grace, they purposefully stay out of tourist tracts. They want no visitors of any sort.

The atmosphere at the village is not hostile, it is just non-caring. They don’t interact with strangers. The people emit a sort of secretive feeling to David, who senses that the village may have more than one thing to hide.

While investigating the spectral visages David will: fall in love with Grace; realize that his sister still haunts him; meet an Irish psychic named Seamus Phelan who seems to know a lot about Sleath and David. He will also find out that ancient evil never really dies. As events begin to escalate, he also learns that Seamus only shows up when an area is about to suffer mass casualties of the living sort.

By the end of the book, David will find out what it is that haunts Grace and the village; and now him.

This is a great little read. Nothing spectacular or else I’d have remembered reading it the first time, but it is typical Herbert. A dash of gore, a few frights and a lot of  “looking over your shoulder”  moments in the book; The Ghosts of Sleath is a good follow on from the book Haunted. If you like a good scare, pick this one up and read it.

Author James Herbert circa 1994.

**This is the next to last post before the big 500. It’s your next to last chance to give me a suggestion for my 500th post. Just sayin’.**

Dreamscape (1984): Inceptions Pappa

Cover of "Dreamscape"
Cover of Dreamscape

Directed by Joseph Ruben (The StepfatherThe ForgottenDreamscape  is about dreaming, going into someone else’s dream and controlling it.

If the plot sounds familiar, it’s because it is. The concept has been used to great effect in two other films. The Cell (2000) and Inception (2010) both utilized the plot device of entering another person’s dreams and either controlling or changing them. All three films are very different from Dreamscape, but it is obviously this film that spawned the latter two.

Starring a young Dennis Quaid (Pandorum, Legion), younger Max von Sydow (Shutter IslandMinority Report), Christopher Plummer (Up, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), Kate Capshaw (Indiana Jones and the Temple of DoomSpaceCamp) and Eddie Albert  (The Longest Yard, Escape to Witch Mountain) the film delivers an entertaining punch.

Dreamscape deals with entering dreams via psychic powers and a little help from machinery that lets the psychic know when the target has started the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) that shows they have started dreaming.

The film opens with a woman running from what looks like a nuclear blast. The whole scene is surrealistic and the colours run together in a psychedelic fashion. We are watching the United States President (Eddie Albert) have a nightmare. It turns out that he has nuclear nightmares on a regular basis.

We then see Alex Gardiner (Dennis Quaid) at the race track. Using his precognitive skills, he successfully picks a long shot to win. When he goes to collect his winnings a gang of crooks try to take his money and make him work for them. Alex evades the crooks and goes home.

Once he is there, he gets a phone call from old friend and mentor Doctor Paul Novotny (Max Von Sydow) who wants him to participate in his new dream experiments. To escape the crooks,who have found out where Alex lives, he decides to take up the offer.

Once there he talks to his mentor and meets his assistant Jane DeVries (Kate Capshaw). He decides to give the experimental programme a go after he meets the man who runs it, Bob Blair (Christopher Plummer)

It turns out that only two of the psychics in the group are skilled enough to really change someone else’s dreams. Alex and a psychotic psychic named  Tommy Ray Glatman (David Patrick Kelly).

We find out two things about Tommy Ray. We learn that he killed his own father and that he has known Bob Blair a long time.

The film moves at a leisurely pace. This does not distract, however, as the action on the screen is still interesting even if it’s not fast paced. At one point Alex enters a young boys dream to help him defeat a “snake-man” who keeps trying to harm him. Alex enables the boy to face his personal monster in the dream and kill it

The overall FX of the film have not aged well. The monster was from the Ray Harryhausen school of stop motion. It did not convince at any time. It looked so much like  The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, that I reverted to childhood for a brief moment. But apart from feeling nostalgic, I did not get anything from the snake-man.

The film features a romance between Quaid and Capshaw. The villain, as portrayed by Christopher Plummer, along with his henchman Tommy Ray  makes us want to hiss and boo each time we see him on screen.

The film’s plot was entertaining and interesting enough that the dated FX did not spoil it at all. Unfortunately, as I have seen The Cell and Inception recently, I could not help but compare the three films.

The Cell dealt more with the technological aspect of entering dreams. Anyone could be hooked up to a machine which would enable them to enter another persons dream. Inception required that both people received injections to make them sleep deep enough that they could enter the trance-like state necessary to enter another’s dreams.

I would say that this film is definitely worth watching. If for no other reason than to see what started the whole dream mechanic utilized in the other two films. It’s also got a sterling cast of seasoned actors who deliver solid performances.

Dreamscape won’t give you nightmares, but it will entertain you.