Ashes of Despair Review

Pacific Book Review Star Awarded to Books of Excellent Merit 

Reviewed by Carl Conrad

With a cast of characters almost as numerous as a Russian novel, Ashes of Despair, by Mary Schaller, brings the reader into the world of gay life, along with the fears and heartache of AIDS, in a book which keeps the action moving like a subway station in and around the busy city of San Francisco. 

In this followup novel to Deadly Distrust, we find the nurse heroine, Elly DeMartini, has inherited a large amount of money which makes her life very complicated because of the people who don’t want her to take possession of certain businesses and the people, on the other hand, who do. In fact, early in her inheritance, she is abducted by hired accomplices who badly beat her and keep her from a Board meeting she needed to attend which then led her to be secretly put in a “Safe House” by police to keep her from further danger. But, even in a Safe House, the drama continues to unfold as Elly’s life becomes entangled in sexual relationships, financial situations, attempts to kill her, and complicated family matters that continuously pull at her in many directions as she seeks to find whom she can trust and whom she can’t. In many instances, it never seems to be certain which of her friends or the people she is in contact with love her for her money or love her because of her character and personality. 

Complicating these events is her fifteen year old son, Davie, whose bullying and difficulties at school have made him look for love and a caring relationship in the seedy underworld of the gay, AIDS infected slums of San Francisco. An older man develops an attachment with Davie that gives the boy an HIV infection which grows into a chilling AIDS battle that progressively threatens Davie’s life throughout the story. The limitations of Davie, combined with the continuously ongoing treatment he must endure, brings the unremitting reality of an AIDS patient into sharp focus where there is love, but there is also deep remorse. 

In a novel which will keep the reader constantly guessing which relationships are safe and which may lead to despair, Mary Schaller has written a sequel to her first book that blows open a look into the gay under-life of AIDS, but comforts it with the loving attention and dignity that it deserves. There are also many situations which bring fashion, culinary interests, heterosexual romance and interesting scenic descriptions into the story as well which will appeal to a broad audience. However, timid readers should be forewarned that there are some mildly graphic sexual situations and character-induced swear words of which they should be aware.