The Dark Masters Trilogy comprise of a trio of novellas from acclaimed horror writer Stephen Volk, a member of the select group of Welsh writers alongside Arthur Machen, whose work is held in the highest esteem within horror circles. Volk is most famous for his scriptwriting work on Ken Russell’s Gothic, and above all else the BBC drama Ghostwatch.
The Dark Masters Trilogy brings together three novellas, Whitstable, Leytonstone and Netherwood as a trio of dark tales of fiction constructed around a quartet of celebrated horror and occult figures from the 20th Century’s cultural past. Hammer legend Peter Cushing takes the lead role in Whitstable, a juvenile Alfred Hitchcock in Leytonstone and we get a twofer in Netherwood with both horror novelist Dennis Wheatley and Occultist Aleister Crowley squaring up to one another.
Whitstable is up first. This is a story about the darker side of the 1970s that takes place in Peter Cushing’s beloved Whitstable in the period directly after the death of his much cherished wife, Helen. The story itself features some wonderfully written characters, and an interesting and well developed plot, however the real genius here is Volk’s touching portrayal of Cushing at this most difficult time in his life. The whole novella revolves around his incredible portrait of the horror legend as a broken man, the loss of his soul mate had rendered him a physical and mental wreck until a chance encounter with a young boy who mistakes him for the character he portrays on screen, the vampire hunter Dr Van Helsing. This leads to Cushing undertaking the role of investigator, delving into a crime that has been committed against the young boy, and saving himself at the same time.
Leytonstone is a story based on the childhood of Alfred Hitchcock that examines the roots of his fascination with crime and punishment, the two factors that form the basis for much of his cinematic output. The story begins with the young Hitchcock incarcerated in a police cell for a crime he did not commit. His Father had him locked up for a night to teach him a lesson. This inspires the young Fred as he was known to further investigate these ideas of crime and punishment with severe repercussions for those involved. Once again this is beautifully written, Volk once again highlighting his incredible turn of phrase and attention to detail, as well as his incredible knack for writing wholly believable characters. Despite much of this story being fictional you feel as though you are delving into the mind of the real Hitchcock, such is Stephen Volk’s incredible talent for writing character.
Netherwood is the final entry in the trilogy. Volk imagines a meeting between two of the most important figures in the Twentieth Century occult world, Dennis Wheatley and Aleister Crowley. Once again Stephen Volk has created a truly believable work of fiction by rooting it in facts. An aging Crowley requests the presence of Wheatley at Netherwood, the guest house in Hastings that was to be Crowley’s last resort. A visibly sick and dying Crowley requests Wheatleys assistance to complete one one final magickal working before his death. The interplay between the two men who never actually met in real life is excellent and you really do get the sense that this is exactly how these events would have played out had they actually happened. This is of course Stephen Volk’s greatest achievement, his characters are so well researched and developed that he almost instinctively knows how they would behave in almost any scenario. A rare commodity indeed and one that should be cherished.
The Dark Masters Trilogy is a triumph, a beautifully written volume that takes the Twentieth Century’s most infamous practitioners of horror and the dark arts and places them into new scenarios. Stephen Volk has written three fictional tales, that are so believable as to be future urban legends, such is the power of his writing, the great attention to detail, and his knowledge of the history of horror and the occult. You simply can’t imagine these stories having the same impact in anyone else’s hands. Each tale having its roots in fact provides a strong base for Volk’s writing, whether this is Cushing’s sad loss, Hitchcock’s incarceration, or Crowley’s final days at Netherwood.
As many of you will already be aware, Stephen Volk is a visionary writer in the field of horror and these novellas are a very strong addition to an already richly acclaimed career. I simply cannot recommend these tales highly enough.
The Dark Masters Trilogy is published by PS Publishing and is available to order from their website now at the link below.