Book Review: Ash by James Herbert

8713500Title: Ash
Author: James Herbert
Genre: Horror, Paranormal Horror
Age Group: Adult (18+)
Rating: 2 stars
Purchase: Amazon

David Ash – detective of the paranormal – is sent to the mysterious Comraich Castle, secluded deep in the Scottish countryside, to investigate a strange, high-profile case: a man has been found crucified – in a room that was locked. The reports suggest that the cliff-top castle is being haunted . . .

Who – or what – is the reclusive hooded figure that Ash has seen from the window walking across the courtyard in the dead of night?
What are the strange, animal-like sounds that come from the surrounding woods?
And why are the castle’s inhabitants so reluctant to talk about what they have seen?

. . . what Ash eventually discovers is truly shocking.

First of all, I didn’t read any of the other books in the David Ash series. I came across this one in my local bookshop and I picked it up because the synopsis intrigued me. A creepy, haunted castle. A parapsychologist with a disturbing past. A secret, elite organization harboring more secrets than the Illuminati. So far, it all sounded good. The only downside was the execution. I enjoyed the premise, but this book was so sloppily executed I had trouble getting to the end.

The plot is actually pretty simple and straightforward, which means there’s no excuse for why it takes 700+ pages to get to the end. David Ash is a seasoned ghost hunter asked to solve the gruesome mystery surrounding Cromraich Castle, a secluded fortress where one person has been brutally murdered by a ghost. Other, smaller events have happened in the castle as well and its inhabitants are terrified. Said inhabitants are a mix of wealthy people who did something wrong at one point in their lives, then vanished off the face of the earth and chose to spend their remaining days in the luxury of the castle. They’re protected by an organisation called “The Inner Court” who has roots dating back to the middle ages and blackmail material on every influential person including the royal family. Some of these people committed smaller crimes, whereas others commited full-on genocide. Not exactly the crowd I would like to mingle with, or would bother to save, but Ash doesn’t seem to mind all that much.

Parapsychologist David Ash is an intriguing and memorable main character. He struggles with a rather cliché drinking problem, and he’s lost many people he cares about. What makes him interesting was that, at the beginning of his career, he was very skeptical toward the existence of ghosts and supernatural phenomena. It was only when he saw for himself that he became a believer. I liked this aspect about him, as well as his sharp, analytical mind. Unfortunately, the rest of his personality fell flat. He’s described in such a dry, monotone way that he never came alive on the pages. He was never more than a figure in a book. Part of this is thanks to Delphine, his supposed love interest. Delphine is a psychologist and the moment Ash meets her, he falls for her. I can understand attraction, but true love at first sight? That’s so ridiculous I can’t believe a seasoned author wanted to pull that off. Also, Delphine has a problem with her lingering sexuality because at one point she spent a passionate night with her co-worker and head nurse of Cromraich castle, Rachel. She acts like she’s terribly ashamed for the act afterward, and that might very well be, but the way the author describes it comes across like A) women are only meant to be with men, and can’t have meaningful relationships with other women (mainly because during the sex scenes with Delphine and Ash, the author mentions how it finally felt right for Delphine and a whole lot of other crap like that, which makes it seem like same-sex couples are the spawn of Satan) and B) every lesbian is evil and jealous. It’s so ridiculous and offensive I couldn’t grasp why any editor would allow such crap to remain in a book.

Another problem is that the author constantly refers to the main character as “Ash”, which is his last name. It put such distance between the main character and the reader that it was almost impossible to cross the distance and get into the main character’s head. This could’ve been easily solved by calling him “David” instead. Also, David doesn’t act like an actual ghost hunter. He’s more busy probing his nose into the political mess going on at the castle than trying to solve the mystery. Talking about the mystery, it’s basically one huge joke. Nothing is ever truly solved. I don’t want to spoil the book for you, but there’s never given any actual reason for the murder at the start, and we just have to believe it happened completely randomly because he was at the wrong place at the wrong time. We’re given a stupid, annoying, ignorant, offensive explanation half-way through of how it is that the dark forces only gathered in Cromraich after hundreds of years, and at that point I was ready to rip my hair out. But more about that later: let’s focus back on the characters first.

Delphine suffers from major Mary Sue syndrom. She’s perfect. Except that she’s useless and a waste of pages. She has no purpose in the book except to cling to Ash’s arm and cry for help, and make for some disgusting sex scenes I skipped through. I had serious problems with Ash falling for her right away, and vice versa, as well. That’s just not believable. Especially since this book is for adults, and I expect a thirty or forty something man (I have no idea how old Ash is) to know better than to fall for someone right away. Especially since he’s supposedly gone through all this crap with past lovers. Anyway, I was kind of hoping something big would be revealed and Delphine would be on the bad side all along, but alas. Such clever plot devices clearly weren’t thought of during the writing of this book.

The second problem was that the author suffered from “God-syndrome”. He wanted to look into the mind of all occupants of Cromraich Castle. He switches perspective from Ash to one of the inhabitants every so often. We get into the mind of people like Ubuntu and Khadaffi, and it doesn’t help the plot one bit. If anything, it slows it down. I don’t want to look into these people’s mind – it adds nothing to the story. I want to know what Ash is thinking and what he’s doing, because by the end I had the feeling he hadn’t been doing much to solve the mystery.

Also, the people in the castle are clearly retarded, and with that I’m not meaning the ‘lunatics’ held in custody in the subbasement of the castle, but the staff and leaders. Seriously? If you have people suffering from mental illnesses, you do not stuff them in a basement in inhumane circumstances, in tiny rooms with no sunlight, barely any food or accomodations. We’re 2013, and shit like that, THANKFULLY, doesn’t happen anymore. The people staying at Cromraich pay enormous amounts of money to stay there or have their loved ones stay there, so I doubt any single one of them would be happy to know they’re kept like rats in a cage and treated worse than animals. When I came to these passages, I wanted to burn the book. I’ve never come that close to burning a book either. And you’d think that, even if the people doing these terrible, terrible things were evil enough to do them, at least Ash or Delphine, near-perfect Delphine, would try to stop them. But no. The moment Ash finds his way into the subbasement, he gets attacked by almost feral ‘lunatics’ who somehow managed to escape their cells. It would’ve been better if the author, before writing this utter ridiculous piece of crap, would’ve bothered to visit a contemporary asylum and see the workings there. I can’t believe anyone, even someone as powerful as the Inner Court, would get away with threating their patients like that nowadays. And I think Ash, as opposed to being a brave ghost hunter, is in fact the world’s biggest coward for not trying to do something about it.

Next up is the supposed culprit of the haunting. I’m going to start giving out some spoilers, so don’t read on if you don’t want to know them. It wasn’t that surprising though. The culprit is actually Hitler’s daughter, born from an affair he had with an English woman. Turns out that not only was his offspring a girl, but she was also handicapped. She has an ‘enormous head’, which makes me think maybe she has Down’s syndrome. In any case, she’s been held in a small, confined room in the subbasement without any sunlight or company ever since she was born. And the staff is SURPRISED that she tries to attack them. During this entire book, she’s painted as the ‘bad guy’, and I wonder why. At some point she was raped and gave birth to a baby. Nobody even saw the baby, except when it was dead. I can’t imagine what that poor girl must’ve gone through. She probably had no idea what was going on, and she did try her best. But then the author comes and adds some more gruesome details, trying to paint her as the bad guy in all this. She was an innocent child, and the staff of Cromraich decided to experiment on her, lock her up in a room without a toilet or proper bed, and then somebody raped her. If anyone is the ‘bad guy’ in this, it’s not her. And I wished the author would stop trying to make her into that, simply because she’s Hitler’s daughter.

Then there’s ‘the boy’. Oh, well, that certainly wasn’t a big surprise to me. The boy has a curious condition. His skin is so translucent you can see his veins, organs and what not. This is because he was born ridiculously early. Also, he’s a hermophiliac, which instantly said ‘royal family’ to me. So he’s apparently Diana’s son, but they never told her he was born alive because of his condition. We’re to believe in all this that ‘the boy’ is the good guy, and hey, he is. He’s pretty good and decent, but his treatment is such a stark contrast as to how Hitler’s daughter is treated that it made me even more angry. Why should he get all the love and care? Because his mind functions properly and his only special condition has to do with his body? Everyone deserves to be treated with the same care, regardless of who their parent is.

As you can guess, by now I was ready to torch the book. The plot was all over the place and quite frankly, made no sense at all. The book isn’t about a ghost hunter solving a paranormal mystery, as I’d hoped. The paranormal takes on such a small spot in this book it might as well not have been there. Even the haunting is random. The castle is apparenlty cursed because some lord was murdered there five hundred or more years ago. It has had a history of bloodshed and horror, and now the ghosts of the past decided to cling on to Hitler’s daughter to make their return into the world of the living. A hired assassin for the Inner Court is facing an illness and decides to kill his employers before he dies himself. His apprentice assassin gets killed by large cats stalking the territory of the castle for no reason. These cats apparently don’t work in packs, but now they do, and it’s never really explained why. All this together, you’d think there was some common ground. There isn’t. It’s like the author threw three or four random storylines together, without bothering if they worked or not. In my opinion, the book could use an entire rewrite, and maybe even cut some storylines because they offered little to nothing to the story.

Oh, and the end was so freaking confusing. SPOILERS ahead, so don’t read on if you haven’t read it yet. But Cedric Twiggs, the assassin, makes the entire castle explode by carefully-placed bombs and then goes back to the cabin, but why the heck is the decaying corpse of his apprentice there and why the heck is he still alive (zombie-alive though)? This makes absolutely NO sense. None of the other dead people in the castle come back to life either. Why he? Ugh. That’s just one of the major plot holes in this book, and I’m long done counting.

Last but not least, the writing. It took over a hundred pages for Ash just to get to the castle. The pace was slow, the writing repetitive and dense. Some of the sentences were wonderfully crafted pieces of art, but not everything needs to be described, and you don’t need half as many adjectives or adverbs as the author used in this book. Seriously. This book could’ve been easily 100 to 200 pages shorter, and the pace would’ve been much more consistent if the writing wasn’t so overly flowery and descriptive. It slowed down the pace so much that at times it was imbearable to read.

On top of that, there was no real, no real storyline, and that resulted in no real tension. For a horror or thriller novel, one of the most important parts is the tension. When I picked up this book, I fully expected to shiver in fear while reading. Alas, nothing of the sort happened. This book wasn’t scary. It wasn’t even suspenseful. It was nothing but shallow characters, a hollow plot and run-on sentences filled with adverbs.

I don’t recommend Ash to anyone, unless everything you’ve read so far sounds like you’d like to read it. But if you’re looking for a ghost story, then there are tons of books out there that are a million times better than this one. This book lacks in every single aspect, and I couldn’t find any redeeming qualities. It was a waste of twenty bucks, and a struggle to get to the end.


  1. sort of agree with this review. However, having read all of JH other books, I found Ash to be sadly poor. Its so sloppily written and full of cliched characters and plot lines, how or why JH managed to drag it out for 700 pages I will never know. Pls JH if you are going to write more get back to your previously high standards. Ash is just rubbish!

  2. Super granny says

    i am so glad u found this review. I was under halfway through the book and getting very bored. I could turn over 20 pages and still know what was happening. Plots are too long and drawn out. I read the review then put the book back in my bookcase to be assigned later for the charity shop. Sorry Mr Herbert I may try another book later. Any recommendations gratefully accepted.

    • I have read a lot of James Herbert’s books and become a huge fan – until I read Ash
      I find it hard to believe that he actually wrote it!!
      Just find it so unbelievably tedious – previous works were all not putdownable
      What happened?!!

  3. Super granny says

    Ps Why did Twigg want to blow up the castle in the first place? Maybe because of who resided there. Did I miss that bit scanning through so many pages?

Speak Your Mind