It seems like every time I start a post out with, “Necro Publications recently sent me a package…“ it ends up leading to something good. So, just to give you an idea where we’re heading here, Necro Publications recently sent me a package, and in that package there were books. One of those books was D. Alexander Ward’s newest book from Bedlam Press, BENEATH ASH & BONE, a dark, intense, whip-crack of a horror-western-mystery story set in the days before the Civil War.
Like just about every good story in the history of forever, BENEATH ASH & BONE starts off with action and intrigue, immediately setting the story in motion and setting it’s hooks into the reader:
The air itself was a gale of darkness and ice that chewed into him like a storm of broken glass. Sheriff Sam Lock and his old nag of a horse, Cutter, pressed on into the bosom of a churning blizzard to find the missing boy.
That opening passage sets up a mystery that draws you in. You want to keep reading because you want to know more about the setting, about Sheriff Sam, and about that missing boy. This type of opening is always a good indicator that you’re in good hands, that the author knows what he’s doing and won’t fail to meet the expectations he sets with his beginning. And Ward doesn’t fail to deliver on the promise of that first few sentences.
I always look for the strengths of a given work when I set out to review it. Some books display masterful character development and backstory, others are strong on setting, while still others demonstrate superior storytelling abilities. With BENEATH ASH & BONE, D. Alexander Ward has crafted a tale that showcases a combination of all of the things that make a story great. Sheriff Sam is a guy you want to sit down and share a glass of whiskey with, you want to learn more about him and his tormented past, the stern father whose ghost he can’t put behind him. He’s a tragic, sympathetic figure and you care about what happens to him. And the settings, the places Ward creates in this book, are pristine and real:
Sam entered the remains of the structure and scanned it for signs of recent passage or habitation, but if something had spent any time in this place, it was not plain to see and certainly not since the storm had begun. The innards of the structure were undisturbed and upon every surface exposed to the elements, there was a uniform gathering of white. Sam’s heart sank. Until that moment, even he himself had not known how much he hoped they would find the boy there. After seeing Colvin scrawl it onto the map, he had a simple and powerful hunch that the old barn would bear some fruit in their search. But it was no more than another lonely, deserted place in the wood, forgotten by all but time itself, which had whittled it down to almost nothing.
His descriptions are poetic and moody, not overly expository at all, and they give you a vivid sense of place throughout the story, a technique that helps to keep you in the story, wanting to see what’s over that next, snow frosted hillock.
One more strength of this book that I want to spend time on is dialogue. In a nutshell, it’s fantastic. It’s a thing that’s extremely difficult to master, but Ward handles it with a virtuoso capability. His characters interactions are fluid, captivating, and natural, placing you in the conversation as your head metaphorically moves back and forth between the individual speakers:
“Mister Crownhill has a good deal of hunting clothes and gear in here. Was he much of an outdoorsman?”
“He could hunt a deer as well as any. Didn’t go very often. Uncle says that after he come home from the war, he was always more of the indoor sort. And now…”
The young man drifted off and Sam stuck his head out from the closet.
“Yes?” he asked. “What sort is he now?”
Bet sighed, looked down to the floor.
“I can’t rightly say.”
Without a large number of he-said she-said, almost none in fact, we know exactly who’s speaking at all times as the characters interact, the drawl of their language coming through in the cadence of their speech.
Written by someone who stands tall in the horror community as an editor, BENEATH ASH & BONE is proof that D. Alexander Ward is also a standout horror author that deserves your attention. It’s horror with heart, six guns, and razor-sharp flesh rending teeth, best read with the light on and a stiff shot of whiskey or two to shore up your courage. The story is lightning quick, instantly captivating, and over way too damn soon, leaving your nerve endings singing and your heart longing for more of Sheriff Sam and the horrors that dwell within the bounds of the Evermore estate.
I for one am hoping we get to see more of Sheriff Sam, whether it be exploring deeper the mysteries and demons of Evermore or in an entirely new scenario. The place and the people are fascinating and immensely entertaining. If you haven’t read D. Alexander Ward, you really want to change that. Start right here with BENEATH ASH & BONE. Click that link below to get a copy for yourself.
BENEATH ASH & BONE Synopsis: Selburn, Virginia: A quiet backwater town nestled among the Blue Ridge Mountains. In the days before the Civil War, Sam Lock keeps the peace as the town sheriff, like his father before him.
That peace is shattered during a raging winter storm when a boy goes missing at Evermore, the sprawling estate of Horace Crownhill and his family. Racing against time and the elements, Sam must mount a desperate search for the child—but what he finds in the snow, and the dark halls of Evermore, are madness … and murder.
As Sam searches for truth in a house poisoned by mysteries and haunted by ghosts, he hopes to weather the storm, but the harrowing secrets he uncovers may prove too terrible to bear. Will he escape with his sanity intact or will the dark presence rumored to hold sway over Evermore claim him as another sacrifice?
About D. Alexander Ward:
D.Alexander Ward is an author and editor of horror and dark fiction. As a volunteer and member of the Horror Writers Association he is an involved participant in the indie horror community.
As an editor, he co-edited the Lovecraftian horror anthology, Shadows Over Main Street. He is currently at work co-editing Shadows Over Main Street, Volume 2 and also GUTTED: Beautiful Horror Stories from Crystal Lake Publishing.
His Southern-flavored action-horror book, Blood Savages: A Blackguards Novel, is available from Necro Publications.
Along with his family and the haints in the woods, he lives near the farm where he grew up in what used to be rural Virginia, where his love for the people, passions and folklore of the South was nurtured. There, he spends his nights penning tales of the dark, strange and fantastic.