The last book published before James Herbert’s death at age 69 was Ash. A few days ago, I finished that book – it was the only novel of his I had left to read so this feels like the end of an era. Over an illustrious career, he had many best sellers – not least of all what many consider his greatest work The Rats. Unfortunately, I feel the book was a disappointment so here, I list my five favourite titles in no particular order.
So simple, yet so effective and you don’t really know what direction it is going in. Jim True has out of body experiences, he’s had them since he was a kid. He’s got so used to them that they are a part of his daily leisure experience. Except one day after a jaunt, he returns to see he has been murdered. Somebody has killed his body and mutilated it, which is quite rude under the circumstances. A disembodied spirit solving his own murder is not a new idea, but this is a new twist and an edge of the seat thriller. It’s one of my favourite Herbert’s and at the time of reading, didn’t expect it to be. Published in 2003, it is fairly typical of the experimentation that Herbert was going through in the late 90s and early 00s.
In some ways, this is similar to Nobody True. It’s relatively short and has a YA feel to it which, for a horror writer, is not as common as you might think. Fluke is a stray dog, but no ordinary dog. You see, he knows he was once human and in his new life, believes he was sent back for a specific reason. Convinced he was murdered and reincarnated as a dog to solve his murder and hoping for the opportunity to take his revenge, he is now a dog on a mission. It’s a bit of an adventure, written in a simple style for a broader audience than had been Herbert’s core readership at this point. It was also turned into a film in 1995 (see trailer). I haven’t seen it so can’t comment on its quality or otherwise.
The Secret of Crickley Hall
Good old-fashioned ghost story telling and another adapted for the screen. This was on BBC in 2012 or 2013 and starred the wonderful Olivia Cooke (Bates Motel), Sarah Smart, Suranne Jones, Tom Ellis, Doug Henshall and Maisie Williams. A young couple, hurting from the loss of their child, move to a remote country home with their remaining children. Things go bump in the night and soon they realise their house is haunted by ghosts of children. The house was a sanctuary for children during the war and run by the cruel Augustus and his equally cruel sister Magda. Yet during those war years, one fateful night a flash flood tore through the village, killing hundreds. But what happened to the children, and can the couple discover what happened there or uncover the truth of their own son’s disappearance?
This was also converted to celluloid and it starred Kate Beckinsale and Aidan Quinn. It’s the first book in a trilogy featuring paranormal researcher David Ash. Contacted by the nanny of an upper class family, he is asked to put her mind at rest about the haunting of the Edbrook household; she needs a sceptic and a researcher to explain how what is going on around her has perfectly rational explanations. The strange behaviour of the three children who are her wards are a distraction, but are the trio core to the events at Edbrook? One of the biggest twists you’ll ever see in a book, but no, I will not give it away for you here. Just read it; it’s quite short but the length feels right. This is easily the best of the David Ash trilogy.
If dark fantasy is for you, then give this a go. Here, Herbert strays into the territory of Clive Barker (without the homoerotic BDSM) and Neil Gaiman (but with more sex). Thom recently suffered a stroke and has returned to his family home, only to discover that all is not what it seems. It’s a world of mysterious creatures, fairies and goblins. There’s something quite sexy about it too, aside from the actual sex scenes, the environment has a real erotic feel. I say this while acknowledging that James Herbert was never a natural with sex scenes and that there are a lot of them in this book; more than once I believe he was up for a Bad Sex Award (an “award” given to authors of badly written sex scenes).
Surprised I didn’t include The Rats? Don’t get me wrong, it’s great. I love it. I particularly love the observations and commentary of the slums of post-war Britain. I just think that he grew as a writer and though it works for shock factor, the above stories are much better written.
I have in the past discussed the alternate history novel ’48. I love the theme in the story of a man immune to a virus being chased by Oswald Mosley’s Black Shirts as they slowly succumb to a disease, and it’s very similar to I Am Legend, but I would no class it as amongst my favourites compared to those above.
Otherwise, do you think I’m completely wrong on all of those? Please feel free to discuss!