Mourning the loss of his recently-departed wife in 1971, actor Peter Cushing is approached by a small boy who asks for the help of Professor Van Helsing; in 1906, a young Alfred Hitchcock is subjected to a night of fear that will shape him into the master of terror; in 1947, author Dennis Wheatley receives a mysterious communique from Aleister Crowley, who needs help to combat a being of ultimate evil… Thus begin each of the three stories of Stephen Volk’s The Dark Masters Trilogy, focusing on these famous figures and putting them in situations both fantastical and, thanks to Volk’s splendid characterisation, believable, while still treating them with great respect.
Volk’s writing doesn’t so much grab the reader, as puts an arm around them and leads them into the story. From the very first page, Cushing’s story is heartbreaking, dealing with the loss of his soul-mate and his ensuing reluctance to carry on with his own life. This is the story of his first tentative steps on the road to recovery, a tale filled with great depth and compassion. We sympathise with Cushing throughout, while the same might not always be said for Young Hitchcock, who comes across as a strange and confused boy. His story is sprinkled with images and themes recognisable from the films, but they enhance the telling; particular emphasis is placed on the relationship between his parents, and Alfred’s connection with the first Hitchcock Blonde.
The last story - new to the trilogy - is a cat and mouse game between the two main characters; Wheatley wants to do good, but wonders if he is being played by Crowley who, to all outward appearances, is a shadow of his former self. Here, the lines between reality and illusion are often blurred, which makes for an unsettling and sometimes disturbing read, while the denouement is a moving and satisfying end to this first-class collection. Volk is one of horror’s masters, and this is a trilogy that will undoubtedly become one of the jewels of his crown. Satisfying on all levels, it’s one of the finest books to have been released this year, and deserves a place on every reader’s shelf.
THE DARK MASTERS TRILOGY / AUTHOR: STEPHEN VOLK / PUBLISHER: PS PUBLISHING / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW