Until now, occult was a declination of the horror genre that I still had to explore, so curiosity was the main motivation that drove me to read Ash: Return of the Beast. Though it was an interesting and at times intriguing read, I’m still not certain, however, that this is exactly my cup of tea…
The premise for this story comes from a real-life individual whose existence I knew nothing about until now: Aleister Crowley was, in short, an occultist and satanist who had been dubbed the “wickedest man in the world”, and after searching for more information about him online (not to mention seeing his unsettling picture!), I’m hardly surprised at the definition. The novel opens with the mysterious disappearance of Crowley’s ashes to reach the present days and follow a series of gruesome murders targeting pastors of various denominations and involving a disturbed rock singer. A detective from the Seattle PD and an agent from the FBI are thrown into an uneasy alliance to solve the murders and deal with the dark forces that threaten to overwhelm the world. Be prepared for an unexpected, not to mention troubling, ending though…
The narrative part of the book is indeed interesting and fast-paced, once the necessary introductory material and back-story have been dealt with, and as soon as the events start to roll, and take on the appearance of an unstoppable avalanche, the reading becomes almost compulsory and gains added speed through the author’s choice of going back and forth in time (even when it’s a short time frame) to show how small events in the past have come to impact those in the present and are leading toward the narrative climax. There are several excursions into branches of the occult culture, like numerology, that make for a fascinating reading, even for someone as skeptical as myself.
Where the book did not work for me, unfortunately, was with the characterization: apart from the frequent head-hopping and several typos, that could prove quite distracting at times, I could not get a sense of the various players, both main and secondary ones, as people – to my eyes they appeared more like props put there to carry the story, and as such they were not invested with the qualities I usually need to take an active interest in them, to care for them. The majority of the character building rests on long dialogue exchanges that seem aimed more at broadening the reader’s understanding of the occult sub-culture rather than at the fleshing out of the people present on the scene. Even when personal details were added to the mix, it happened in a “telling” rather than “showing” mode, and that did little to deepen my knowledge of what makes these people tick.
Detective Brian Kane, for example, is described as a gruff man with a strong down-to-Earth tendency, who finds it extremely difficult to accept the information provided by his counterpart, FBI agent Rowena Ravenwood: this was meant to show the antithesis between his disbelieving attitude and her vast knowledge of the occult world, gained through years of work in the special FBI branch that deals with such phenomena. What I did not like in this representation was Kane’s excessive use of colloquialisms that to me felt both unnatural and contrived, and not at all like an organically ingrained speech pattern. Ravenwood, on the other hand, was given the task of pedantically “educating” Kane, falling prey to long, drawn-out explanations to which the detective replied with repeated requests for clarification and declarations of skepticism that in the long run proved somewhat irritating. Ravenwood’s long-suffering patience and her considerations about Kane’s on-off “inner Teddy Bear” soon followed along the same route, and unfortunately all these elements prevented me from enjoying the story as I had wished.
Despite this purely personal misgivings, though, the novel offers a quick, engrossing read – with the forewarning that it contains strong themes not recommended for the very young and the squeamish: if horror, supernatural and Lovecraftian-like creatures rising from the darkest depths are in your chords, then this book is certainly for you.
My Rating: 6,5/10