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Book Review: Beneath Ash and Bone by D. Alexander Ward

“Ward has created a riveting and entertainingly sinister murder mystery, full of complex characters and intriguing scenes plucked straight from our darkest nightmares.”

When you hear the name D. Alexander Ward, you may be forgiven for thinking “Oh, yeah. That editor guy!” After all, he certainly made an impact in 2016 when he co-edited two of the most critically-acclaimed anthologies of the year in Shadows Over Main Street Volume 1 (Originally from Hazardous Press, but a second edition is currently available from Cutting Block Books) and Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories (Crystal Lake Publishing) both with partner-in-crime Doug Murano. But Ward is also an accomplished author, with many short stories and novels under his belt. His editorial work aside, 2016 also saw the release of his novel Beneath Ash and Bone.

The book opens with Sheriff Sam Lock fighting his way through a wintry blizzard on the back of his horse, heading to the estate of the wealthy Crownhills to investigate the case of missing children. We are immediately transported back to 1860, before telephones and motor cars, forensics and police departments. And it is all thanks to Ward’s command of language and ease with the cadence of the time. By using a third-person limited point of view, Ward allows us to read what Lock is thinking and how he describes the terrain and weather and circumstances is utterly absorbing.

Despite the authentic Western setting and Western lawman, once Lock arrives at the Crownhill estate, the story takes a distinctly spooky and sinister turn, especially with the discovery of a dead body. As the storm outside shows little sign of letting up, Lock begins to uncover more and more of the Crownhill family secrets while finding himself increasingly entangled in the family’s affairs. Ward handles the relationships between his characters masterfully, particularly the exchanges between the Sheriff and the lady of the house, Charlotte Crownhill.

The description of the main house and its mostly European furnishings give the story a very gothic feeling. Ward manages to take a setting and tone that some would say are quite incompatible, and combine them in a unique and entertaining way. Before they know what is happening the reader is enmeshed in the complex narrative of the investigation and the complicated background of the Crownhills, and Lock’s frustrated attempts to unravel it all. The reader is hooked from page one and Ward teases us along, seemingly answering one question only to pose two more in its place, until we are confronted with the terrible truth of what is really plaguing the Crownhills.

With Beneath Ash and Bone, Ward has created a riveting and entertainingly sinister murder mystery, full of complex characters and intriguing scenes plucked straight from our darkest nightmares. Lock is a very likeable protagonist, despite his flawed background (which only serves to make him a more complete character), and Ward’s descriptive prowess is always evident, whether he is crafting nightmarish scenes of horror or the gothic atmosphere of the estate or the wintry countryside surroundings. Beneath Ash and Bone is well worth your time and we can’t wait to see where Ward takes us next.

THOMAS JOYCE

Publisher: Bedlam Press
ebook: (172 pp)
Release Date: 23 February 2016

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