First published back in November of 1994, ‘The Ghosts Of Sleath’ is the loosely fitting sequel to British horror author James Herbert's novel ‘Haunted' (1988) which first introduced the psychic investigator David Ash. Herbert later released the third and final instalment into the David Ash Trilogy, simply entitled ‘Ash’ (2012). Although this sequel is somewhat of a standalone tale (likewise in fact with the other two novels), it does still include a number of references to ‘Haunted’ (1988) which adds a greater depth and understanding to the principal protagonist of David Ash; giving a better explanation towards some of his quirks and personal fears.
Sleath is a sleepy rural English village...a quaint and quiet village hidden away in the Chiltern Hills where a number of strange and seemingly supernatural occurrences have been taking place throughout the village. Psychic investigator David Ash is summoned to the village by the local Reverend George Lockwood, in order to investigate these paranormal happenings. As Ash makes his way around the small village, he witnesses a number of strange and eerie goings on. Speaking with local residents brings to light the scale of this supernatural curse. It quickly emerges that many residents of the small community are beginning to see ghosts of the deceased. Paranormal spectres that are terrorizing the locals to the very point of death.
Once again Ash finds himself in the thick of a powerful threat that promises to destroy anyone who gets in its way. The psychic investigator must work with those around him to get to the very bottom of these terrible hauntings. Hauntings that are becoming more frequent, more threatening and more deadly with every day that passes. Ash will once again find companionship and solace in the most unlikely of places – Lockwood’s daughter Grace. A relationship that quickly develops with a psychic affinity that is drawing the two together.
When all hope of getting close to the truth is running out, Ash’s eccentric psychic rival – Seamus Phelan – turns up in the village to assist with unlocking the village's centuries-old legacy. A legacy that is now back with vengeance. The Lockwood family history spans back generations, their powerful hold over the village always present and controlling. And the history that is lurks in the past with the Lockwood forefathers is far from clean and holy. There is an evil that refuses to die. An evil that has now manifested itself in the village and will stop at nothing to gain its hateful vengeance...
Herbert's ‘The Ghosts Of Sleath’ is a thoroughly engrossing tale of intense paranormal horror that sets down a fast and brutish pace from the very start. With a storyline that is more involved, more dramatic and on a much larger scale than that of ‘Haunted’ (1988), Herbert has really gone all out with the sheer intensity within this paranormal tale of unrelenting and uncompromising horror.
The gritty principal protagonist of David Ash is just as much of an anti-hero as he was in ‘Haunted’ (1988). His intentionally ‘human’ characteristics add such a solid weight to the story's realism, reinforcing the reader-character connection that was initially established within the first novel.
The storyline itself is as eerie as it is destructive, with imaginative and purposely confusing hauntings that gradually build up a monstrously elaborate picture of evil that we soon learn has spanned centuries. The multiple sub-plots and inclusion of a strong love interest for Ash not only thickens out the novel, but creates an engaging and compelling tale which pulls the reader into the plot from numerous hard-hitting angles.
The quaint village of Sleath is described with the vivid and atmospherically rich skill of a master storyteller. Indeed, each age old building, timeworn street, desolate schoolyard, or neighbouring woodland, is portrayed to the reader with a wealth of intricacies; with the ever present gloom of the paranormal threat constantly overshadowing each and every location.
Hebert’s miniature substory showing the nightly return of the ghost of a child molesting father to the ghost of his equally dead eleven-year-old son is as chilling as it is callous. As Ash uncovers the backstory to this particularly cutting storyline, the oppressive and dark atmosphere of the novel suddenly shifts up a gear or two. Indeed, the insertion of this gut-wrenching plot-developer intensifies the impact of the tale, setting down such an emotive and inherently sickening (and downright shocking) thread to the story.
As the tale progresses onwards, the pace gradually increases, building up the number, scale and seriousness of the hauntings, until the impressively contrived truth behind the evil presence is finally revealed. Herbert doesn't tackle these things by half, delivering an intense conclusion to the novel with the final few chapters bringing out a monstrous and spine-tingling finale. Indeed, a somewhat surprising return of a thick fog brings back instant memories of his earlier masterpiece ‘The Fog’ (1975) – with the edge-of-the-seat action now put at the very pinnacle of the plot.
Although many have found the ending of the tale too loose, with too many unaccounted for threads to the storyline needing to be tied off, it has to be said that it does still deliver a hell of a final punch regardless. The novel is certainly a tension builder as well as one that just keeps on escalating in pace throughout. And at the very ending, Herbert pulls out all the stops and finishes with (if nothing else) a fitting and impactful finale.
For pace and sheer enjoyment alone, Herbert's ‘The Ghosts Of Sleath’ is up there with some of the best of this talented author’s work. Combined with the other two novels in the trilogy - as a set they truly are an often underrated masterpiece of contemporary horror literature and certainly a must read for all fans of Herbert's earlier work.
The novel runs for a total of 409 pages.
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