My Haunted Library

All things spooky. Your source for paranormal and supernatural book and movie reviews, strangeography, Halloween crafts and a little cozy fall baking.


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Review: The Ghosts of Sleath

Called to the remote village of Sleath to investigate a mundane haunting, psychic researcher David Ash quickly discovers that the picturesque little town hides evil at its core—and darkness will have its day.

The Ghosts of Sleath—James Herbert, 1994. Rating 4.5/5

Ash is still reeling from a previous assignment, where a trio of malicious ghosts upended all of Ash’s beliefs. (Haunted—see my review here.) Now, investigating the ghostly appearance of a little drowned boy in Sleath seems like a comparative walk in the park. Although most of the villagers are…reserved…Ash forms an instant, emotional connection to Grace Lockwood, the vicar’s daughter. Meanwhile, disturbingly violent events, catalyzed by the sudden return of foul spirits, begin to plague Sleath. Villagers are tormented by things they—rightfully—feared By the time Ash discovers that Sleath is home to a cabal of very dark arts, the village inhabitants (dead and alive) reach a cataclysmic breaking point.

The Ghosts of Sleath is a crackerjack read. One reason this title pleases me so much is because Herbert is a wordsmith. He creates an eerie village setting juxtaposing moments of simple beauty (I paused to reread twice a vision that captured a breathtaking sense of normalcy caught out of time), with uniquely disturbing imagery. Herbert balances scenes of gore and violence with glimpses of things barely seen, teasing our imaginations one moment, then fulfilling them the next. Exceptional character development makes the horror hit home. Ash is a great flawed hero. He drowns his guilt with vodka and still tries to manage his psychic powers with self-delusion and skepticism. We empathize with him, as we do Grace: an intelligent, perceptive, kind woman whose love for her father hides a secret from herself. The Ghosts of Sleath satisfies on multiple levels: it is both a ripping good ghost story with remarkable visuals (it would be a stunner of a film), and an affecting character study. Highly recommended.

rating system four and a half crows


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Review: Haunted

Haunted – James Herbert, 1988. Rating 4.5

Paranormal investigator David Ash anticipates another mundane batch of drafts and creaky floorboards masquerading as ghosts when he’s called to evaluate a down-at-heel old country house. Instead, what he experiences threatens his worldview—and his life.

David Ash is the resident skeptic at the British-based Psychical Research Institute. He’s skilled at debunking paranormal phenomena, from hoax hauntings to fake mediums. David firmly believes that everything has a rational explanation, and if it doesn’t, well, it’s simply the “irregular normal.” But never the supernatural. There are no such things as ghosts in David’s mindset. His conscious mindset, that is. David has a terrifying secret he’s been hiding since he was a child.

The Mariell family specifically requests David to come and explain the phenomena they’ve witnessed: the ghost of a young woman haunting the house and grounds of Edbrook. The adult family consists of weirdly immature siblings Robert, Simon, and Christina, and their closed-mouthed elderly nanny, Tess. David sets up his scientific equipment and doesn’t have long to wait before the inexplicable occurs. As David struggles to assign logical reasons for the mounting phenomena—which are violently directed towards him—he starts to believe the family is playing a sick game with him.

Edith, a gentle psychic medium who also works for the Institute, is convinced David has latent psychic ability that he’s been repressing for reasons of his own. When Edith receives disturbing images David in danger, she knows she must help, despite the risk to herself.

Haunted is truly one of the scariest ghost stories I’ve read in years, and that is saying a lot. To take a classic haunted house story and give it this kind of punch takes mad skill. Haunted is spare and fast-moving, dragging us into its insidious current. We suspect things at Edbrook are terribly wrong long before David admits it to himself. This dramatic irony adds to the building suspense, creating an ominous sense of unease. The tension is augmented by Herbert’s skill at creating vivid sensory images. Herbert not only revitalizes old tropes, he elevates them. For instance, Haunted contains, bar none, the most harrowing séance scene I’ve ever read—or seen.

Herbert’s character-building is equally lean yet evocative. Ash’s backstory unspools in memories of previous investigations shared by Edith and Kate, the Institute’s director. There is a poignancy to Ash’s character. He has a drinking problem. Trouble maintaining deep relationships. As the scientific tools and approaches he’s always relied on prove useless, he opens up to Christina, and we realize Ash is a scared little boy beneath the walls of rationalism he’s erected.

Haunted is already a contender for my Best Reads list next January, it is that good. I have also discovered that Ash appears in two more of Herbert’s stories: The Ghosts of Sleath, and Ash, Herbert’s final novel before his 2013 death. No guesses what’s moved to the front of my to-read list!

rating system four and a half crows