Reviewed by: JA Gill
Genre: Crime Thriller/Horror
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Gary Val Tenuta lives in The Evergreen State and has written for Fate Magazine, a publication about the paranormal. A father of two, Tenuta’s interests in the occult and numerology date back to the early ‘90s. According to his website, Tenuta’s debut novel Ezekiel Code spent time on Amazon’s Bestseller list. Ash: Return of the Beast is his second novel.
Jumping off from the sensational and contradicting events surrounding the death of Aleister “The Great Beast 666” Crowley, one of the most famous occultists in history, Ash: Return of the Beast is a detective story about fame and power and the dark arts.
There is a lot to like about Gary Val Tenuta’s Ash: Return of the Beast. This second novel from the author of Ezekiel Code is a competent crime thriller with satanic overtones—nothing like the threat of devil worshipers summoning Sumerian demigods across the spectral plane to shake up a standard police procedural. Tenuta is clearly well versed in the esoteric knowledge of the occult—his enthusiasm for the topic is palpable on the page—and he cleverly uses one of the main characters as a foil to get the information across without sounding pedantic. “A week ago—hell, even just a day ago—he would have thought that was crazy talk,” admits a recently converted detective.
Most crime thrillers reside in the natural world, where the methodical application of logic and evidence gathering—“You know my methods, Watson”—are ritualized, even fetishized. In Ash the killer and cops are neither devious nor particularly clever, just dogged, which is not to say unhurried, in going through the motions of their respective tradecraft. “Using this code you just calculate the alphanumeric value of any word or phrase,” says a special agent versed in the occult. And voilà! For the universe Tenuta creates is only mysterious and coincidental to those who don’t know the rules. To those who do, fate is everything, and by hewing to standard operating procedures—from within an ancient text of demonology or following a hunch—answers reveal themselves.
Tenuta’s enthusiasm for the subject matter (a self-described “dweller of realms outside the box”) makes for an indulging read, but one cannot help notice the niggling, perhaps unavoidable, contradiction at the heart of the story. The unfathomable chaos and utter destruction to be loosed upon the world are literally held at bay behind a “to-do” list, downright bureaucratic in its superficiality: drink this goop, chant this esoteric verse, wear this robe, etc. As easily pickable as the door to other worlds is to unlock, it strains credibility to then wonder why it isn’t continually flung open. It is not that Tenuta’s good guys should always prevail, as readers will find, but that there is something un-Sherlockian in them—that no matter what side you’re fighting for—to botch things up at the eleventh hour.
Trigger warning: some graphic rapes scenes