Two books stood out for me when I saw DarkFuse’s scheduled releases for May. One was Greg F. Gifune’s novel, “Rogue,” since he has been a favorite of mine for years. The other was Lisa von Biela’s novella, “Ash and Bone,” as she is becoming one of my new favorite writers. I was completely blown away by her first two novels, “The Genesis Code” and “The Janus Legacy,” so I was eager to see what her first novella would be like.
Eileen Maroni is looking to reboot her life when she drives into the small fishing village of Cromwell Bay. When she sees a small motel for sale, she decides that it would be the perfect place for her to hide from her past (and the police). She buys the motel and runs it by herself and things seem to be going well. The only blip of trouble is that people do not like Room 8, often demanding to be moved to a new room or complaining about not sleeping well the next morning. Eileen is not too concerned even though her dog will not go anywhere near the room.
Frank Foster ends up in Cromwell Bay by seeming chance when he is driving aimlessly while looking for answers after the funeral of his best, and only, friend. He stays in Room 8 at Eileen’s motel and experiences the bad dreams that haunt so many of the people that stay there. Now Frank feels compelled to look into the town’s secret past to discover what is happening in the room. When he discovers that that Harbor Motel is built on the site of an old sawmill that had burned down decades earlier, his search for the truth takes a strange and haunting turn that will change him forever.
This is the third book that I have read by Lisa von Biela and her range of writing is very impressive. “The Genesis Code” was a fast-paced thriller that was smartly written and exciting. “The Janus Legacy” was a more reflective story that took a look at the core of humanity. In “Ash and Bone,” von Biela returns to some of the same themes of “the Janus Legacy” to craft a dark and atmospheric tale of the evil in men. Eileen is running from her dark past and trying to rebuild her life even as she stumbles upon the site of a former evil that has remained forever unresolved. She, like the spirits that lurk in Room 8 of her motel, is seeking closure so that she can move on. Frank is also looking to move on with his life in the face of the hopelessness he feels with the loss of his friend. These three entities come together at the center of an unresolved tragedy that has never known closure and must try to reconcile the past with the present in order to achieve a brighter future.
“Ash and Bone” is a very strong novella that plays on the theme of a haunted motel but is so much more. There is a familiarity in the story through its themes but the story moves in a new and original direction. When Frank finds and confronts what he believes may be the source of the haunting, he learns that there are many different layers to all events. It is not as easy as just finding the source of the evil and overcoming it. Most events, such as the one that has trapped the ghosts in Cromwell Bay, spring from multiple places and cannot be easily resolved. Those evils, in fact, can become new again and move on to the present. Some things are better left in the past and Frank and Eileen are destined to learn that shedding the past is not easily accomplished. “Ash and Bone” is a complicated story that von Biela has managed to condense into a short novella. It is a tale that packs a powerful punch and is more haunting for its humanity than it is for the ghosts that inhabit its pages.
I would like to thank DarkFuse and NetGalley for this advance review copy. “Ash and Bone” is scheduled to be released by DarkFuse in May and is available for preorder now.