Written by Lee Thomas
Published by Sinister Grin Press
One of the most enduring aspects of the horror genre is the idea of terrible things happening to good people. Those who do the best they can in the face of the worst, most unexplainable adversity. Because of this, I’m lukewarm on many ghost stories. Far too many revolve around spirits tormenting those who’ve wronged them. Maybe I’m overly particular, but I rarely like anti-hero monsters. I carried this trepidation into Ash Street because it starts out in a familiar vein: the site of a horrific killing spree, buried secrets and lingering ghosts.
I was glad to be proven wrong almost immediately. Lee Thomas has the good sense to shuffle the focus around, spinning a story of genre tropes in a way that’s legitimately spooky and surprising. The horror of Ash Street stems from spirits of the dead who’ve decided to torment relatives and loved ones, making this a story where the malevolence cannot be easily understood or explained. This is the first novel I’ve read in a while that makes the paranormal seriously frightening and intimidating.
Ash Street is a Bentley Little-ish slow burn that crosses investigative mystery with supernatural scares. One troubling aspect in modern genre fiction is its seeming reticence for extensive character depth and development. Not every novel needs to be a 200k-word extravaganza, and some writers can err on the side of indulgence for sure, but I enjoy spending time with the main characters, especially when a writer like Thomas is so good at making me care about them. I was happy to find this to be one of the book’s focuses, even as the horror ramped up. Sometimes it’s the human drama that hooks me well before the horror does, and Ash Street is no exception.
Some may find that this has a bit of a slow start. We spend a lot of time with the townspeople of a small Texas town, getting a sense of how their lives were impacted by the brutal killing spree that happened a few years earlier. Thomas then tightens the dangling threads, pulling everything together for one hell of an unpredictable and shocking finish.
The trappings of a great ghost story are here: creepy appearances, unexplained phenomena and an opportunistic ghost hunter determined to get to the bottom of things. There’s plenty of atmosphere for fans of paranormal fiction, but it’s also a novel that benefits from robust characters and crisp, assured prose. Ash Street took me back to the low-key 70s horror paperbacks that I creased as a kid, and I’m interested in seeking out more of Thomas’ work as a result.
4 out of 5