Meet an old story in a new jacket! We received this gorgeously covered copy of The Ghosts of Sleath by James Herbert from PanMacmillan Australia not realising that the story was originally published in 1994. All things considered though, this didn’t really matter to us because we’ve never read any of Herbert’s work anyway! Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:
Can a ghost haunt a ghost?
Can the dead reach out and touch the living?
Can ancient evil be made manifest?
These are the questions that confront investigator David Ash when he is sent to the picturesque village of Sleath in the Chiltern Hills to look into mysterious reports of mass hauntings. What he discovers is a terrified community gripped by horrors and terrorized by ghosts from the ancient village’s long history. As each dark secret is unveiled and terrible, malign forces are unleashed, he will fear for his very sanity.
Sleath. Where the dead will walk the streets.
Sleath, it seems, is a picturesque village that is haunted by…well, pretty much everything that ever happened there. When psychic investigator David Ash is called to Sleath at the behest of the local vicar amid whispers of hauntings, he is woefully unprepared to deal with the sheer backlog of instances of human misery that this town seems to be hiding. Along with Grace, the vicar’s daughter, and later on, a mysterious Irish man who turns up out of the blue, David must try and get to the bottom of the diverse phenomena appearing all over the village and discover whether they have paranormal origins or are driven by something more mundane.
Before you pick this one up you should probably be made aware that it isn’t your average, run of the mill ghost story, but also features some quite graphic, stomach-churning violence that is sprung on the reader without warning in various places. We Shelf-dwellers, being fans of ghostliness, but not necessarily goriness (unless we’re in the mood!), found this to be a bit of a stumbling block to getting into this book because after a while we became hand-shy that something icky would be around the next corner. For those who appreciate trigger warnings, you should be made aware that this book features descriptions of child sexual abuse that are quite confronting.
This is the second book in a series featuring psychic investigator David Ash. Not having read the first book wasn’t a major problem as the author provides enough information here and there to ensure that the reader gets an idea of his backstory. Ash is a bit of a tortured character by all accounts who is committed to his job but still coming to terms with some seriously nasty psychological trauma from a past case.
I couldn’t quite make up my mind as to whether I enjoyed this book or not. On the one hand, it certainly satisfies the criteria of “totally creepy paranormal phenomena” and “reveals you didn’t see coming”, both of which I appreciate in a good ghosty story. On the other hand, the aforementioned violence seemed shockingly out of place and was so graphic in places that it made me feel a bit sick. I also had a few issues with the slow pacing of the investigation and constant interjections of flashbacks from various townsfolk.
While this one didn’t quite hang together in the most appealing way for me as a reader, I’m sure there will be plenty of folk who will appreciate the dark, brooding atmosphere of this book and the multiple narratives that have been woven together to contribute to the surprising reveal.
Until next time,