Saturday, 6 April 2013

Whitstable by Stephen Volk

whitstablefront21
1971. 
A middle-aged man, wracked with grief, walks along the beach at Whitstable in Kent.
A boy approaches him and, taking him for the famous vampire-hunter Doctor Van Helsing from the Hammer movies, asks for his help. Because he believes his stepfather really is a vampire…
Published by Spectral Press on May 26th 2013
PDF review copy
Summary from Spectral Press
So begins the new novella by Stephen Volk, published by the British Fantasy Award-nominated Spectral Press in May 2013 to coincide with the centenary of the most celebrated and beloved of Hammer’s stars, Peter Cushing.
In Whitstable—which blends fact with fiction into one narrative—the actor, devastated after the recent death of his wife and soul mate Helen, is an inconsolable recluse. In that vulnerable state he is forced to face an evil far more real and terrifying than any of the make-believe monsters he tackled on the big screen. And here he is not a crusader or expert with crucifixes to hand—merely a man. A man who in some ways craves death himself, but cannot ignore the pleas of an innocent child…
******
In this short yet intense novella, BAFTA winner Stephen Volk tackles a difficult, timely issue through an intriguing mixture of recent historical fact and fiction. His portrayal of Peter Cushing’s awful grief is moving, not mawkish, and he clearly knows a great deal about the Hammer films set-up and the people who worked there.
I loved Hammer films as a teen so I do know the odd thing about the people involved. It was a pleasure for me to see the details worked into the story – I am sure it would absolutely delight any true aficionado.
There are a fair few flashbacks and it is a serious, slowly-paced narrative on the whole - though there are intense moments of action. There are some deeply-felt explorations on the nature of acting and a telling use of a seagull motif. The main focus is the psychology of the central character – and it doesn’t waver from that perspective even after the decisive resolution. The period details are good but largely unobtrusive. I should say the language at times makes it unsuitable for the more sensitive reader– but it is all appropriate in context.
There is an interesting use of an actual film script intercut with the main story: you can tell the author has worked in TV and film. The cover image I’ve seen reflects the haunting tone with its exact sense of place well.
This novella is utterly ideal for those readers with a soft spot for Hammer films, and an admiration for Peter Cushing, who enjoy a serious tale told in a fairly complex way. There is much to interest a reader of thrillers who isn’t a horror devotee as well.

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