Tuesday 10 November 2015

REVIEW: Duncan Ralston - Salvage

Genre: Horror / Paranormal
Publisher: Forsaken
Publication Date: 10th Nov 2015
Pages: 304


A copy of Salvage was sent to Confessions of a Reviewer by the author Duncan Ralston in exchange for an honest review. This is said review. This book is published by Forsaken.

So I have read Gristle and Bone which is a short story collection by Mr Ralston. You can read the review of it here. I loved it. It was brutal and horrifying and bloody and just all round good fun. This is his debut novel and labelled as a ghost story. I was hoping for more of the same with all of the above attached. Did I get it?

Owen Saddler’s life is in turmoil. His little sister Lori has just died in a tragic diving accident in Chapel Lake. Some say the lake is haunted. It’s actually a man-made hydroelectric dam that totally covers the old town of Peace Falls.

Owen feels the need to retrace Lori’s footsteps to find out why she was there and how the accident happened.

What follows is a harrowing tale of discovery, taking Owen on a trip that will delve deep into his and his mother’s past, uncovering a trail of deceit, depression, madness and murder. Will Owen survive long enough to uncover the truth?

So did I get what I was looking for? Nope. I did not. And to be honest in the beginning I felt a little disappointed about that but then I readjusted myself and read the book as it is, a ghost story and not an out and out horror book. I needed to get the blood and guts out of my system because it was clear early on they were not going to come in the same amounts. When I did that…..well, read on.

Main nice characters in this one would be obviously Owen and Lori but also their Mum. Lori has always been a wild child, travelling the world in search of new wonders and life experiences. Owen has always been the quiet, conscientious one, working hard and being very normal. They were close as kids but drifted as adults as Lori went off on her adventures. Their mum seems nice but has her bad moments. I liked to not like her. She is also a bit nuts and so anti religion she makes the devil seem like Mickey Mouse.

Nasty characters in this one. Hmmm how do I tell you without ruining the mystery? I can’t, so all I will say is there is a minister in this one who is evil personified. Horrible in life and horrible in death.

The plot? It’s a ghost story but a mysterious one at that. It delves deep into the Saddler family’s past to try and explain a decades old horror which not only affected their family but everyone in Peace Falls. It’s a story about Owen searching for the truth after Lori dies but he soon realises that as a result of what he finds out initially, the truth is much harder to come by than he thought.

That’s an easy and concise way of describing this book. I will try and give you more depth to it but to be honest I reckon that many people will have many different theories.

As I said before, I was disappointed that the brutal horror wasn’t there in this story. I wanted the blood and guts because Duncan Ralston is extremely good at writing that sort of stuff. You know what though? When you read this book as what it is, a ghost story, it’s rather bloody good. It’s a lot more involved than I first thought. This book is an examination of depression, of madness, of fanaticism and the fallout that comes for many people from either or all of the above.

The writing in this story is superb. My initial thoughts drew me to the descriptive writing. The mental image you get of your surroundings is fantastic. When Owen goes for his first real dive in the lake, the descriptions of what he experiences and what he sees are magical. Truly mesmerising. Like Owen in the story, I have a fear of being under water. The way his mind reacts to what is happening and what he is seeing is truly terrifying as well as painting you a wonderful image that puts you right beside him, feeling everything he does. Without giving anything away, there is one part in this sequence that made me feel so enclosed and under immense pressure as if actually being under water, I was nearly sick.

To affect you in such a way using only words points to a writing talent that is second to none.

This story also, directly or indirectly (not sure whether it was deliberate or not but reading the author notes I suspect it was) delves deep into the world of depression, seen through both the eyes of the sufferers and the eyes of the people that must support them. I have to say that, from my own personal experiences, Mr Ralston again has got this spot on. The trials and tribulations that Owen has gone through his entire life will ring true to a lot of people reading this. Whether you yourself get any comfort from the story remains to be seen. Personally I did but this was a combination of a few things that “made” the characters.

The madness side of things is again handled in such a way that you will initially think certain characters are completely off their heads and the rest are totally sane. As the story progresses you get to a point where, after getting new evidence if you like, you soon realise that your perception of someone being mad or insane after knowing very little about them or only knowing them for a short period of time, you could, most likely be wrong.

Should I delve into the religious fanaticism part? Probably not. This would take me a day or two to talk about.

Suffice to say that when you roll all of the above together in one story it could be complicated. Salvage is not complicated. Each little twist explains itself beautifully and there are plenty of lightbulb moments and plenty of “I never would have thought that” moments. It also keeps you guessing. A lot.

Oh and there are ghosts! A lot of ghosts and a lot of very creepy moments. Because this is to do with ghosts living in a lake, when things go bump in the night, they tend to leave little puddles. Just be careful you don’t leave your own little puddles because it is quite possible.

After I initially finished this book, I wasn’t going to give the full five stars. I was going to give it four stars for the general rating. I have sat for a few hours now thinking about the story and what it gave me. It gave me a lot of pleasure. It gave me a lot of creeps. It gave me a lot of deep deep thinking to do. It made me feel physically sick in parts. I soon realised I was knocking off a star because there wasn’t as much blood and guts involved. On reflection that’s ok though because this story gives you much more than a ghost story. A lot of people that read this book will end up connecting with it in many more ways than they thought and would probably admit to.

To summarise: a ghost story that will creep you out and will keep you guessing and guessing what happened and where it is going. It is full of mystery and intrigue. It examines our minds, our make-up and our inner strengths. It is a book filled with superb writing that will engross you and keep you glued to the pages. This book took me a lot longer than normal to read. I couldn’t figure out why. After spending time reading back over this review it has become clear to me. It’s because it is so bloody good and my brain wanted to soak every little bit of it up. Enjoy.

General rating:

★★★★★ brilliant in so many different ways.

Ghostly rating:

★★★★★ watch out for those puddles!

If you would like to help support Confessions of a Reviewer then please consider using the links below to buy Salvage or any other books from Duncan or indeed anything at all from Amazon. This not only supports me but also lets me know how many people actually like to buy books after reading my reviews.


Book Synopsis:

Something is Lurking Under the Lake...

When Owen Saddler's little sister mysteriously drowns, Owen is determined to uncover the circumstances by following in her footsteps, even if it means diving into the murky--some would say haunted--waters of Chapel Lake.

Thirty years earlier, the town of Peace Falls had been flooded to build a hydroelectric dam, and its ruins remain below the surface of Chapel Lake. The strange disappearance of the town Pastor, along with many of the parishioners, still haunts the citizens of Chapel Lake. But does the church haunt the lake itself? Is Owen really seeing ghosts... or has he descended into the depths of madness?

Salvage is the debut horror novel of author Duncan Ralston (Gristle & Bone). A darkly disturbing story of depression, religious fanaticism, and the afterlife, Salvage seeks to illuminate the evil within us all.

Duncan Ralston was born in Toronto, and spent his teens in a small town. As a "grown-up," Duncan lives with his girlfriend and their dog in Toronto, where he writes about the things that frighten and disturb him. In addition to his twisted short stories found in GRISTLE & BONE, THE ANIMAL, and the charity anthology THE BLACK ROOM MANUSCRIPTS, his debut novel SALVAGE is available now.

"Mr. Ralston writes horror fiction that is unflinching and pulls no punches." - Kit Power.

"Duncan Ralston is writing honest stories about real people, pitched headlong into extraordinary situations. And that is what makes them so horrifying." - Ken Preston, Dirge Magazine

And for more about Duncan, visit his site or find him on social media:


  1. Excellent stuff, Nev. I will be digging on this next week :-)

    Adrian Shotbolt
    Lord of darkness down under.

  2. Reading Salvage. It's brilliant.

  3. It certainly is Angela. Glad you're enjoying it!