BLACK ASHES by Noel Scanlon


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Irish-writer Scanlon's fourth novel, a tale of the supernatural in which a proper English bank manager is possessed by the incarnation of a Hindu god-demon; the plot fizzles, but the special effects are quite nice. When ""poor old Johnny Johnson,"" the manager of the Consolidated Bank in Ranpur, India, mysteriously commits suicide, responsible, 40-ish Bob Roberts is swiftly sent out by the Home Office to take over. He brings his wife, Deirdre, and their 17-year-old daughter, Monica, and they all move happily into his predecessor's house. Happily, that is, until they realize that Johnson (who'd hung himself in the master bedroom) is haunting the place--he takes special delight in appearing to Deirdre in a particularly gruesome state of decomposition when she has her evening drink in the garden. There's trouble at the office, too: Bob has discovered that Johnson had been embezzling large sums of money to give to the malevolently charismatic Swami Ramesh Srivastava, an Indian leader who is, we learn, the present incarnation of the terrifying Hindu god-demon, Ravena. When an indignant Bob makes noises about reporting this to Home Office, Swami Ramesh invades his mind with blitzkrieg force, taking him over utterly (just as he'd done with Johnson). Bob is now a grinning, empty shell of himself, a lobotomized Babbit--all he can do is embezzle more and more. Deirdre, in the meantime, is having a nervous breakdown, and Monica, also brainwashed, is a militant follower of the Swami--who is planning on using Ravena's awful power (and Consolidated's rupees) to take over India. Then, at the last moment--improbably enough, and without explanation--Bob pulls himself out of his trance, and Deirdre steadies her nerve; together they collect Monica and as the novel closes are about to flee the country, shuddering, xenophobic wrecks. All in all, it's a hasty ending to a sometimes ill-contrived plot, but Scanlon's colloquial style is charmingly deadpan, and he gets points for good, creepy imagining: he's not ""Ireland's answer to Stephen King,"" but he does well for himself all the same.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1985
Publisher: St. Martin's