First published back in October of 2015, ‘Ashley’s Tale’ formed the hard-hitting debut novella for US author Mike Duke.

DLS Synopsis:
It all happened so fast.  One minute Ashley Wendell was making her way through a carpark towards her car, the next a strong hand had been clamped across her mouth and she was staring into the eyes of the man that would become her captor.

Paralysed with fear the young college girl is escorted to her car, whereupon she’s knocked unconscious and bundled into the trunk.

Upon waking Ashley finds she’s been restrained with duct tape across her mouth; her hands cuffed and her feet in shackles.  Furthermore she’s aware they’ve been travelling for some distance before the car eventually pulls in.

Terror grips Ashley once again as the trunk is opened and she’s effortlessly lifted from within.  With crippling fear now pumping through her system, she’s dragged into the house and taken into a soundproofed room.   In the very centre of the room Ashley’s eyes are instantly drawn to a leather saddled contraption with manacles dangling from it sides.  It’s at this very moment that the last dregs of hope start to leave Ashley.

As she’s manacled to the contraption Ashely’s given the ultimatum – suffer a vicious beating or be raped by her captor.  Looking in the mirror she sees her helpless face staring back at her.  It’s the face of a victim.  The face of deep hurt.  She knows she’s seen that face before.  All those years ago, as a young child when she’d been that victim.  At that moment she knows there was no way on earth she’d reopen those wounds.  No way she’d go back to that pain.  Real pain that cuts so much deeper than any physical wound.

She chooses the beating…and it’s vicious.

But she must be strong…

DLS Review:
For his debut, author Mike Duke’s gone for one hell of a gritty first offering.  Akin to a cross between Kit Power’s ‘Lifeline’ (2014) and Meir Zarchi’s ‘I Spit On You Grave’ (1978) – the novella offers a powerfully evocative and unimaginably hard-hitting tale which rips the nerves raw from the outset.

Indeed, from the very first line the novella explodes in the reader’s face with vicious and uncompromising brutality that instantly chills your blood due to the sheer realism of the escalating premise.  And that’s the thing that really gets you in those first few pages.  How real this is.  How such sickening and deplorable acts as this actually take place in real world.  They’re not just limited to fiction.  It leaves you cold.

From the moment of the abduction there’s very little respite from the suffering.  You know things are going to get pretty darn grim when the author starts describing a purpose-built room with a stock-like contraption for the victims to be manacled to.  It’s around here that you’ll possible start to find your mouth dries up and your pulse starts to quicken.  You keep telling yourself it’s only a story – but the sheer horror of the situation nevertheless carves through all that logic and then mercilessly cuts into your exposed nerves.

What you’re barely aware of as your senses are striped, raped and brutalised is how quickly you become emotionally vested in the character of Ashley.  In fact, by the end of the first page you’ll find that you’re there with her.  You feel her terror and her deep-routed anguish.  It’s undoubtedly a testament to Duke’s skill at writing how he subtly interweaves the characterisation whilst the scenes of horror distract you.

However this isn’t a torture porn story.  Far from it.  Yes there’s brutality and scenes which will probably disturb.  Yes a young girl is abducted and put through absolute hell.  But there’s another side to this otherwise deeply sinister story.  One of conquering your personal demons.  One of true hurt, true suffering, and overcoming those real life monsters that could crush each and every one of us.

It’s only a relatively short novella.  Because of this Duke’s stuck with a very singular storyline – but fleshing it out with lovingly invested characterisation and carefully explored emotions.  In essence it’s a story solely about two characters – Ashely and her abductor Jake.  Furthermore, after just a couple of pages the story zeros in on just one location – the building Jake holds Ashley captive in.  As such it’s a claustrophobic, character-driven story which relies solely on Ashley’s all-important character arch.

Indeed, if there was ever a character arch that defined an entire tale then this is that one.  Duke has masterfully brought Ashley to life within seconds of the tale commencing, and through the hell she endures at the hands of her captor, we witness a powerful and utterly compelling transformation.

‘Ashley’s Tale’ is a story that will hold you in a cold and unrelenting grip from start to finish.  It’s raw with emotion – delivering gut-punch after gut-punch to the reader as it continually raises the stakes.

It’s a story that will leave you breathless, yet as the final page is turned, pleading to know more.  A truly remarkable debut introducing Mike Duke as an author who’s clearly unwilling to pull any punches in order to tell his stories.

The novella runs for a total of 53 pages.

© DLS Reviews

Other ‘Ashley’s Tale’ instalments:

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