Stephen Volk is perhaps best known for his work on the infamous BBC broadcast of Ghostwatch, but is also responsible for the writing the criminally underrated The Awakening and more recently was involved in the television adaptation of Midwinter of the Spirit. In addition to his work on the screen, page and stage, he has a number of published works, the latest of which clearly merges his interest in horror icons with intriguing storytelling. Divided into three distinct sections The Dark Masters Trilogy is an engaging read that should be at the top of every horror fan’s to-read list.
Whitstable – 1971
Peter Cushing, grief-stricken over the loss of his wife and soul-mate, is walking along a beach near his home. A little boy approaches him, taking him to be the famous vampire-hunter Van Helsing from the Hammer films, begs for his expert help . . .
Leytonstone – 1906
Young Alfred Hitchcock is taken by his father to visit the local police station. There he suddenly finds himself, inexplicably, locked up for a crime he knows nothing about – the catalyst for a series ofevents that will scar, and create, the world’s leading Master of Terror . . .
Netherwood – 1947
Best-selling black magic novelist Dennis Wheatley finds himself summoned mysteriously to the aid of Aleister Crowley – mystic, reprobate, The Great Beast 666, and dubbed by the press ‘The Wickedest Man in the World’ – to help combat a force of genuine evil . . .
The book takes the generally-accepted public views of the figures involved and uses the associated traits to build compelling narrative ‘what ifs’ around them. Whitstable, in particular, struck a chord for me with perfect framing of the gentlemanly nature of Peter Cushing, tinged with immense sadness at the loss of his wife, placed in an impossible situation. It is contemplative and achingly sad but also inventive, with a confrontation taking place in a cinema a particularly interesting sequence.
The most impressive aspect of the trilogy is how the writing style changes to best reflect the characters involved. The rather more dialogue-heavy Netherwood is evocative of Crowley’s position as a preacher and describer of involved rituals, while Leytonstone remains far more introspective and concerned with the inner workings of young Hitchcock’s mind. Their changing focus also means there is a good contrast between real-world horror and more supernaturally-focused elements.
The quieter start of Whitstable means that there feels like a gradual increase in disturbing content increases throughout the book. This is not a criticism and each grisly detail is well-earned and supported by the surrounding material. Leytonstone, in its recreation and further probing of a real-life event in Hitchcock’s past does well to ground it in the themes of voyeurism and angst toward women so well-recognised by genre fans. Netherwood allows for passages dedicated to horrific dream sequences, while also grounding these fears and experiences in the fall out of the Second World War.
Overall, the book is a treat for genre fans. Confidently, but sensitively-written it is both an appreciation and exploration of the figures within it and the power of the horror genre itself.
The Dark Masters Trilogy is available to pre-order from PS Publishing from October 5th.
You can find out more about Stephen Volk and his work at StephenVolk.net