James Herbert has been the undisputed master of British Horror for the last 40 years. His books have thrilled millions and his writing has been loved all over. Aside from Stephen King, he is the very embodiment of spine-chilling terror.
In his first book for six years he re-visits an old character in David Ash, last seen in The Ghosts of Sleath in 1994. Whilst it is plain for his legion of fans to acknowledge that he still has the command to influence your darkest thoughts, to terrify the reader into a unconscious state of trepidation and despair, his books have become staid in parts, overblown and disturbingly grandiose which is not the reason the public fell in love him.
His first novel, 1974’s The Rats, may have been short but the weight in which he pulled the psychological punches was nothing that had been seen before and over the next 30 odd years, tales such as the post-nuclear story of Domain, the supernatural murder-mystery of Moon and the Catholic up-bringing inspired The Shrine not only cemented his position as the best British horror writer of all time but almost stone-walled him in that position forever.
In Ash, whilst still retaining the ingredients of exceptional raw horror, rats, spiders, the deranged and powerfully insane, there is abundance, a tendency to rely on the narrative being stretched beyond feasibility and major characters not being explored to a degree of satisfaction.
The other issue that has always been there, lurking in the background with James Herbert’s work is the keen and over worked use of sex as a tool to get a point across in his books. It is easy to see why he does it, the offering of titillation to the reader in amongst the gore and devilment that he is setting aside for the reader obviously sells… but in every book?
The chronic want of some major characters to have more of a say is disturbing enough to make another book for the man millions look up to as a writer. The way he writes David Ash’s business partner who just so happens to have been best friends with a very high up police officer since childhood is a leap of faith that some readers may not be able to swallow with good grace. The sexual diversion of Head Nurse Krantz who just so happened to be in love with the resident psychologist Delphine is plot under another name Mr. Herbert has used before. Mildly entertaining in The Fog and Domain it is a chapter or ten that in all honesty and admiration for Mr. Herbert’s work, that could have easily been chopped and disregarded. It told the reader nothing more and seemed to be at the expense of more interesting characters.
James Herbert deserves his places at Britain’s favourite horror writer but it is a crown that soon may have to be placed elsewhere.
Ian D. Hall