Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Sunday, March 17, 2013


Ash by James Herbert (2013)

It's been seven years since best-selling British horror writer James Herbert published his last book.  The wait for his fans has been worth it as Herbert brings back his popular ghost-hunter David Ash (previously seen in Haunted [1988] and The Ghosts of Sleath [1994]) for his long-anticipated third outing in Ash.

Comraich Castle, a remote ancient castle in Scotland, has been repurposed as an asylum for some of the world's most infamous people.  Dictators, despots, war criminals, sexual deviants, murderers, corrupt business barons -- all have found a permanent refuge on the bleak Scottish coast.  For more than a century, the castle's clients have hidden from the world, presumed long dead, but enjoying the luxury that only the very rich can afford.   The castle itself has had a bloody history.  Situated on Ley lines, cursed since the Fourteenth Century, the site of torture, murder, and medical experimentation -- Comraich Castle is balanced on the edge of being infiltrated by demonic forces, and something is posed to tip the balance.

Putrid smells, strange noises, and items flying through the air mark the tipping point.  Then one of the castle's clients, a disgraced billionaire (think Bernie Madoff) is found flayed in his room and cruxified on the wall, held suspended only by his own blood. 

Comrtaich Castle is owned and run by a mysterious and powerful group called the Inner Circle.  For generations, the Inner Circle has controlled governments through blackmail, murder, and (occasionally) mutually satisfactory clandestine dealings.  Wealthy and powerful beyond imagination, the Inner Circle operates secretly and out of the public radar. This group is a British conspiracy theorist's El Dorado.  Herbert interweaves known events and history to implicate much of the British government and its royal family -- from Victoria to the current queen -- in the Inner Circle's doings.  (Interestingly, Queen Elizabeth awarded the author an OBE; evidently that did not innoculate her or her family from the author's pen.)

David Ash, just recovered from the tragic effects of his last case, is tasked with investigating the occurences at the castle, not knowing that once his work was done, the Inner Circle planned to murder him rather than let any possible secrets leave with him.  (That is, of course, if the investigation doesn't kill him.)  Once at the castle, he realizes that things are about to get much worse as the hauntings intensify and the body count climbs.  The dark forces at the castle are beginning to influence the people there, bringing out their most savage instincts and paranoia.  Herbert peppers the book with a homicidal Serbian war criminal, an aged assassin with Parkinson's disease, the mutant, mentally-retarded secret daughter of Adolph Hitler, a mysterious young man with transparent skin, the ghost of the Princess of Wales, giant bat-eating spiders, an army of deadly feral cats, a sexually deviant arch-bishop, incestuous twins, Nazis, a Russian mobster, and number of other unpleasant characters.  Along the way, we also learn who Jack the Ripper was and why he went on his killing spree, as well as the truth about the death of publishing magnate Robert Maxwell.

An entertaining and fast-moving read.  I went through the nearly 700 pages in less than two days.  My one major complaint is that the author verges close to the ridiculous in painting a wide range of plots and conspiracies and in some of the coincidences necessary to move his plot.  While reading about the Inner Circle, I was reminded of John Brunner's 1963 classic short story "The Totally Rich."

Recommended, but you are warned to suspend disbelief.

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