Ash was ‘born’ from a very particular set of influences in my life.
I’d recently spent a summer living in the Central District (CD) in Seattle, and it was a ‘hot’ summer as they say. Gunshots were often heard in the night and what I thought was a bum sleeping it off as I headed out one morning was surrounded by yellow tape and turned out to be a murder before I headed home that night. (It’s a largely gentrified neighbourhood now, for better or worse, so don’t be afraid to walk there in 2018). I saw a lot of drug dealing, some street fights, and businesses that made you wonder if they were really all they seemed. Years later, living in Tottenham, London, I was reminded of that thought by a garage next to our flat that seemed to be a hotbed for 'off the books' activities (and more than a few late night shenanigans).
It was not my first ‘bad neighbourhood.’ A body had been found in a dumpster outside the apartment I was living in the previous summer, off Colfax Ave in Denver. And a friend of a friend had tried prostitution on that same street, with not very positive results. All of that seemed like it should, somehow, be a book. Not the stories of me and my friends, but the sense impressions those places left.
The first version of Ash was going to turn out to be something like The Hunter, with Ash as a more knocked about version of Parker; but coming back to it years later that had worn off me. I preferred an Ash who was less an actor in the resolution of a mystery than a pinball in a machine he has no view of. In the end it is Cash, Ted, Vye and others who provide the impetus that takes Ash to his fatal rendezvous in the shadows of an abandoned shopping mall (based on a place that was not quite dead when I hiked out to it with my friend Lisa in the early 90s, but surely must have been by the time Ash wound up there four or five years later). The way I see Ash now is a sort of urban cross over between Dante’s Inferno and Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, by way of Andrew Vachss' early novels.
And it is Vachss to whom I owe the biggest debt here (despite of course owing something to Richard Stark, Max Allan Collins, Lawrence Block and others). Vachss' novels are about ethics first of course, especially the protection of the innocent, but not far after that they are about family. I was fascinated by that and although Ash doesn’t realise it, he has a kind of family too, without whom he would probably die in the first few chapters.
Ash is a highly competent criminal of course. But like Parker before him things have a tendency to go wrong when he is involved. He had a bad reversal of fortune, the echoes of which are all over the first quarter of the book. As the story goes on he regains some of the edge and danger hinted of at first. But hopefully he goes a little beyond that, and, whether or not he might be a monster, there is some hint that he can feel love as well as hate. Whether that love is a good kind, perhaps is debatable, and something I’m interested in coming back to if we ever delve back into Ash’s world.