Modern classics – Haunted by James Herbert

What’s happened to James Herbert? His long-awaited new book, Ash was originally due this March but is now listed on Amazon as coming this October. And it is strange indeed for such a high-profile author to have so small a presence on the web – there’s plenty of fan sites, but for the life of me I’m unable to find an official site. And several sites are even listing the new book, Ash as not coming until May 2012.


What we do know about the new book is that it is another story centered on David Ash, the paranormal investigator who was first encountered by eager horror fans in Herbert’s 1988 novel, Haunted. And Haunted travelled a road to publication that was every bit as rocky as that which Ash now seems to be upon. It started off as a script for a two-hour TV movie that Herbert had been asked to pen by the BBC, but the commissioning producer Jonathan Powell was moved into a different department and his replacement cancelled the project, leaving Herbert with a complete script with little hope of it entering production.


Herbert opted to turn the script into a novel and the result was this volume. Reading the story one can detect its origins as a film script, since scenes are jumped to and from quickly, something we’re used to with films and TV but not so much with a book. Characterisation also seems far thinner sketched than with most of the author’s other works from this period, but on times this works in the favour of the story. The character of David Ash is not a million miles from the character of Bishop in Herbert’s earlier novel, The Dark.


The plot sees David Ash sent to investigate the strange happenings as Ebrook Mansion, the home of the odd Merriell family. The locations are kept to a minimum, again betraying the stories origin as a script, but this works in the book’s favour, creating a claustrophobic atmosphere – something always suited to ghosts stories.


It’s not Herbert’s best work, but it still reads well today and it a worthwhile reread to get readers in the mood for Ash later this year, or early next year or whenever it finally sees print.


Come on Jimmie – get a move on.


Haunted is far from Herbert’s best, but it still holds up well.

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