Review: Ashes of Innocence by Phil Price

Well, he is a Brummie who enjoys a beer

Back in January, I was aware of Phil Price’s existence thanks entirely to a Facebook group called ‘The Jukebox Cafe Music Club’. More specifically, through a feature called ‘Friday Night Disco’ which is a sort of virtual open-mic event in which members suggest songs that fit – sometimes loosely, I’ll admit – around a particular theme. Phil, like yours truly, is a keen contributor.

But whilst I had a vague idea that he had written some books, I couldn’t have told you what genre they were never mind named any. Which is why it came as something of a surprise when he gifted me a copy of Ashes of Innocence.

Fast-forward to March and I was lucky enough to meet Phil face to face. But whilst it was a joy to discover that he was a fellow lover of real ale, it was also a little bit embarrassing because I had to confess that actually, I still hadn’t read the book that he’d been kind enough to give to me.

Well, now it’s been a further three months and … I’ll beat about the bush no longer. I’ve read the book and I bloody loved it.

As a soldier serving in Afghanistan in 2005, Captain John Wilson thought he’d seen his fair share of horror. Only that day he’d survived an ambush by two local snipers. But the real horror was happening back at his home in Birmingham (England). The abduction of his four-year-old daughter, Lottie in a story reminiscent of the James Bulger case. I’ll omit any more details for fear of spoilers, except to say that the ending is different, but no less tragic.

This sounds like it could be a short summary of the whole book, but it isn’t. I’ve covered only the first six short chapters. But this was enough to absolutely grab me by the scruff of the neck, and the rest of the book never even hints at letting go. The rest of the novel manages to somehow be fast-paced, action-packed and yet tell a fascinating story of human nature all at the same time. The rational need to try and maintain something resembling normality conflicting with the emotional desire for some form of revenge. The need to at least appear to stay strong for your family when you feel like your insides are being torn apart.

The cover of the book includes the words: “There’s only so much one man can take”. Well, if that man is John Wilson, he can take more than I think I could. More than once I silently pleaded to Phil Price “no, don’t do that. Don’t make the poor man take any more.” But he did. And each time, John took it. And here’s the real clincher: each time, it felt believable. John, and his family, remained relatable. Each time, I felt for them that bit more.

The setting is also wonderfully described. Most of the book is set in and around Birmingham, which I know well and which helped me to visualise the action as clearly as if I had been there, watching it take place. And yet, that can’t be all there is to it because certain chapters move the story to Caithness (Scotland), Spain and Afghanistan. None of which I have ever visited. And yet I could still see the locations in my imagination as clearly as if I had been watching a film.

I really only have one tiny criticism, which is that towards the end of the book, some parts of the plot felt just a little bit forced. One twist relies on a teenager recognising someone she only once saw, briefly, when she was four. Perhaps this could happen, but I wasn’t entirely convinced. Likewise, the ending, which manages to almost tie things up neatly and yet still leave room for the possibility of a sequel, wasn’t implausible. But it had me wondering slightly, rather than gasping in awe. And it’s for this reason that I have to deduct a half-star from what would otherwise be a perfect rating.

There’s absolutely no way that it should stop you from reading the book though. A few tiny niggles aside, it’s fantastic. It remains only for me to say: congratulations Phil. I’ll try not to leave it another six months before rewarding you with a pint.

My thanks again to the author for the digital copy. I will also post my review on Goodreads and Amazon.

My rating: ★★★★.5

16th June 2022

The blurb

He was fighting for his country in a far-off land, hoping to make his home a safer place for his family. However, the danger was not where he thought it would be.

He had no clue that it would be stalking the streets of Birmingham, looking for easy pickings.
It never entered his head that two young boys could tear his world apart, taking what he loved most.

Returning from conflict, John is plunged into his own dark war, trying to keep his family from falling apart.

Twelve years later, his life has become bearable, the monotony keeping him on track.
But just as things start to look up, shadowy figures from his past threaten to bring it all crashing down once more.

Taking the one thing worth fighting for.

A gripping and suspenseful psychological thriller about grief and revenge. Fans of Tom Clancy and Lee Child will find a new hero. John Wilson.

About the author

Phil Price was born in Sutton Coldfield in 1974. He lived in various places in the UK until his family settled in Rednal, a suburb on the outskirts of Birmingham in 1979. Growing up with an older brother and sister, he always flirted with reading, his home always littered with books. Then in 1997, Phil embarked on a travel expedition that took him from Greece to Thailand, via East and Southern Africa. Sitting in dusty bus stations in Kenya, Tanzania and Malawi with Wilbur Smith and James Herbert accompanying him, his imagination was sparked into life. Since those far-off days, he has never been without a book to read.

Phil started toying with the idea of writing a book in 2009. After writing a few short stories, he caught a whiff of an idea in his head. It started to evolve in 2010 until he had enough to begin his writing journey. Marriage and two children came along, with the story being moved to the back burner for periods of time. However, during those periods of writing inactivity, the story continued to manifest until it just needed one thing. To be written down.

The story was littered with places that had influenced Phil’s life. From the Lickey Hills in Birmingham to the Amatola Mountains in South Africa, with other many other locations, in-between and far beyond.

The book was finished sometime in 2014, left on his computer until a chance conversation with an author friend made Phil take the bold step to publish his story, Unknown.

From there, Phil’s love for the first book spurred him on, creating The Forsaken Series. A vampire/paranormal/horror saga, set in our world, and others too. His love of horror and all things supernatural, inspired by authors such as King, Herbert and others, helped create the epic series.

After venturing into science fiction with his fourth title, Zoo, he turned to thrillers, with Ashes of Innocence being published in 2020 and His Dark Shadow expected early 2021.

Aside from his writing, Phil lives on the edge of a small town in Worcestershire, UK. A wife and two sons keep Phil happily occupied as he steers his way through life, playing the husband, dad and world creator in equal measure.

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