Haunted by James Herbert

hauntedA skeptical ghost hunter goes on a mission in Haunted, a 1988 novel by James Herbert. Arriving with some emotional baggage of his own, the ghost hunter soon discovers that ghosts are real – and that they want vengeance.

It’s the first appearance of Herbert’s ghost hunter David Ash, who would go on to further adventures in The Ghosts of Sleath (1994) and Ash (Herbert’s last novel, 2012). Ash believes in natural explanations, that all apparitions and similar phenomena can be explained by drafts, leaks and other such faults found in old houses… and the rats, the rats in the walls, perhaps?

Invited to Edbrook Hall by the three Mariell siblings, Ash’s investigations soon take a sour turn as he glimpses a girl in white around the premises, supposedly a ghost of the family’s long-dead younger sister. Revelations follow revelations, and in the end even Ash’s own family history comes into play.

At a mere 228 pages Haunted is a quick read. Herbert keeps the chapters short and his language blunt. The otherwise effective narrative is interrupted by two jarring flashbacks that would’ve probably been more effective as a prologue. Incidentally, that’s exactly how they were handled in the movie adaptation of the story (1995).

Ultimately it’s a ridiculously far-fetched tale, even for a ghost story. The big twist itself is great; it’s the motivation for the events that is glaringly beyond belief. Herbert’s writing saves a lot, but whereas his sentences are brisk, sharp and clear, the plot is a convoluted, murky mess.

The movie adaptation from 1995 adds some story and makes it all a bit sexier, but both versions follow the same basic outline.

** (2/5)

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