The Ghosts of Sleath by James Herbert

As part of my Classics Club challenge I recently undertook to join the Classic Spin (see here).  For this a book was picked from random from a list of your own chosen classics book list.  The number 14 was picked and my No.14 was The Ghosts of Sleath.

I haven’t read any James Herbert for many years so was keen to see how I felt about this particular novel or more to the point how this experienced would compare to my younger self.

The story’s main protagonist is a psychic investigator – or ghost hunter if you will – called David Ash.  I hadn’t realised in picking this book up that David Ash appeared in Herbert’s earlier novel Haunted where he investigated a haunted house – I’m pretty sure I’ve seen a film or screen adaptation of the Haunted.  Anyway, at the start of the novel David is asked to go check out a possible haunting in the small village of Sleath.  However, this is much more than just a haunted house.  This is a whole haunted village.  Of course, even in spite of David’s previous ghostly experience he still remains sceptical of the whole ghostly phenomenon and so strides boldly into Sleath with every intention of setting up his paraphernalia and exposing a fraud.

As soon as he reaches Sleath, which isn’s easy as it seems to be nestled away, he immediately encounters a small boy on the road into the village who he nearly hits with his car.  Upon further inspection of course there is no boy to be found.  Sleath sounds like a chocolate box type of village.  Picturesque cottages nestled around a village green, a pond, small school and a church.  Why then is the place so unknown.  Visitors stay away and the welcome at the local inn is less than cheerful.  David then takes himself off to meet the local vicar – whose daughter is responsible for calling for the investigation in the first place following a number of suspected ghostly visitations and apparitions.  And the two seem to share a strange psychic connection which develops into more as the story progresses.

Immediately there is a very strong sense of paranoia.  The villagers are all unfriendly, which you could mistake for simple suspicion of outsiders, but comes across as something more.  A lot of them seem nervous and look sleep deprived and within very short shrift of David arriving two people have been murdered, one in a particuarly grisly fashion.

On top of this we have the remains of the local country manor which was burnt down.  A place which seems to ooze ominious darkness and the local school where school children can be heard singing ‘The Lord of the Dance’ – even though the school is no longer open!

I must admit that I’m glad I read this.  I guess it’s a combination of ghost and horror story mixed in.  It’s not all particularly unique and I wouldn’t say there were any major ‘wow’ moments but I really enjoyed the writing style.  It comes across almost as an old fashioned tale and puts me in mind a little of Susan Hill.  I would also say this isn’t character driven, in fact there’s such an abundance of characters that we jump between that there’s very little time to get to know anybody particularly well or form any real attachment but again, I think because there’s such a lot happening and all told in a way that is really quite intriguing there is literally never a dull moment!  And you can’t help but be totally intrigued about what will eventually happen – not to mention it would be a little pointless getting too attached to some of these characters as Herbert is pretty ruthless to say the least.

What I did think was interesting is that although Herbert is writing about a haunted village here rather than a haunted house – it’s almost as though he treats it in the same style in terms of being a self contained haunting.  The ghosts never leave the boundaries of the village in much the same way as ghosts don’t leave the house they’re haunting.  Even when a pea soup fog descends it stays masking the village and doesn’t spread further afield.

In terms of criticisms I don’t really have a lot.  I enjoyed the writing style but the only thing I would say, and perhaps this will be a bonus for some people, is apart from a particular instance based inside the church, I never experienced that chill that you have sometimes when reading something a bit creepy where the hairs on the back of your neck seem to literally rise and you have a horrible feeling of somebody watching you!  But, I wouldn’t necessarily say this was a bad thing.  Like I said, the story very much crosses over into horror and the last hundred pages kept me hooked waiting to see what was really going on and how it would pan out.

So, how did this compare.  Well, I think if I’d read this when I was younger and going through my horror/slasher/thriller stage I probably would not have enjoyed this, even though it’s fairly fast pace – I think I was probably looking more for the creeped out factor then.  As it is now and with a little more patience this wasn’t the case and I liked the style of writing.

So, I’m pleased to complete my Classic Spin challenge and also this counts as my first read from my Classics Club list – one down – 49 to go!


18 Responses to “The Ghosts of Sleath by James Herbert”

  1. Genki Jason

    Ah, it was such a shock to hear of his passing. I’ve read two of his novels and I can still remember certain passages. This one sounds real good and it references (quite unintentionally) two of my favourite things. Unfriendly villagers? Do they have the Innsmouth look? Thick fog that descends upon the village? Silent Hill. Get back in the car and just drive away!

    • lynnsbooks

      Actually it definitely was a shock and a bit spooky that I was reading one of his books after such a long time (and a ghost story). You could definitely read this and think it is a bit cheesy but I really quite liked it. Innsmouth – is that Lovecraft – believe it or not (and I’m sure you will given that I seem to have total black holes in some parts of my reading) but I’ve read no Lovecraft but have recently downloaded off Amazon his complete works which I’m really looking forward to – so if you have some particular recommendations then fire away.
      Haha, a few of the villages did actually try to drive away but the thick fog made it VERY difficult!
      Lynn 😀

      • Genki Jason

        As far as Lovecaft goes I really like Colour Out of Space, Haunter in the Dark and Shadow Over Innsmouth. You should visit HP Podcraft after reading the stories. It’s a great podcast by two very funny guys who make the stories even more entertaining.

  2. Auntie

    Ohhhh, a haunted, perfect little village! Sounds good to me!

    Again, I didn’t read whole review. Didn’t want to know-too-much, yet. 🙂 I’m sure you do not give plot away, but….. I just do this.

    Hmmmm, wonder if any other of your Dear Readers do this? Or do they all, read the whole post? Interesting. 🙂

    Btw, since I fear Blogger may be phased out, I have made a Word Press blog. To learn how to use Word Press, in case I need it….


    • lynnsbooks

      Yay, definitely get a wordpress blog – then we’ll be like two peas in a pod – great fun! Plus there are A LOT of wordpress bloggers out there. You just have to get on board.
      I think that maybe if I read this book when I was a teen I would have been all ‘what?’ not enough fear factor but with the benefit of a few years I think I’m able to appreciate the writing style. There are definitely cliches running amok in here but because I don’t read a great deal of this genre it wasn’t a problem for me. Plus, some people don’t like to be given the chills! So another plus. I think you would enjoy it – I had a hard copy sat on my shelves which is why it went on my list but it wouldn’t surprise me if you could get this from your library to give it a go.
      I must confess I very rarely give away spoilers – the only time I think I do is when I’m reading a series or a readalong and it’s sort of inevitable that there will be spoilers in which case I always give due warning.
      Lynn 😀

      • Auntie

        Of course you don’t give away spoilers. It’s just me.

        Oh and, I already have a blogger blog called “Auntie’s Reads 2013.” I’m up to 23 books, so far this year. That’s probably not a record, for a lot of people. But it is, for me. -grin-

        Auntie’s Reads 2013…. No comments on there though. Saves me having to watch for SPAM, on another blog.

        Not sure if click-able links work, in Word Press… I have a lot to learn! So I’ll type the URL too.


      • lynnsbooks

        Actually – 23 books is pretty impressive if you ask me – not even up to the end of March so if you add another book for good measure that makes 24 which is 8 per month and nearly 96 per year! Very impressive actually. I definitely didn’t make 100 last year and am sort of determined to do so this time!
        Lynn 😀

      • Auntie

        As to my number of books, I have read, so far this year…. Remember. I am ‘olden’ and have a lot of free time. You on the other hand, are young, with a family, and have little free time.

        But when one is ‘olden,’ one must pay attention, to any/all perks, of being such. -grin-


      • lynnsbooks

        I’ve decided that you’re only as ‘olden’ as you act – and you act like a ‘youngun’! Definitely you must pay attention to the perks though!
        Lynn 😀

  3. Delia (Postcards from Asia)

    Ah, this sounds like a book I would enjoy. I liked The Secret of Crickley Hall a lot and this seems to be the same kind of story. Sad to hear about his death.

    • lynnsbooks

      I fancied reading The Secret of Crickley Hall, a few people have recommended that recently – but, I saw the tv adaptation (which was quite good) but I feel I’ve lost the element of surprise now so not sure whether it will be as good a read. Saying that, one of my friends assures me the book is much better so perhaps I should still give it a go.
      It was very sad to hear about JH’s death.
      Lynn 😀

  4. jessicabookworm

    I’m really glad to hear you enjoyed your first Classic Club read! I haven’t read anything by James Herbert but would really like to, and this sounds like something I’d enjoy too 🙂

    • lynnsbooks

      I thought it was quite good but you might also want to look at The Secret of Crickley Hall – a number of people have recommended that to me recently.
      Lynn 😀

      • jessicabookworm

        Oh yes I forgot about that one. I watched the recent TV adaptation of that which I really enjoyed.

  5. Marie

    This sounds pretty spooky and atmospheric. I’ve never read anything by James Herbert but this plot sounds very familiar to me. Didn’t M. Night Shyamalan make a very similar film? I don’t read enough horror or ghost stories but I tend to really enjoy them whenever I do. Might pick this up, or something else by Herbert, for the next time I am in the mood for a scare!

    • lynnsbooks

      Well, speaking of scary books – you could wait until the RIP book event in Autumn – I usually save a few spooky reads to look at then. I love reading a chiller on a cold dark night – atmospheric!
      Lynn 😀

      • Auntie

        -giggles- I’m getting “goose bumps” already!!!!


  6. Classics Club – book list | Lynn's Book Blog

    […] The Ghosts of Sleath by James Herbert review here […]

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