Let’s not pussyfoot about here – Whitstable by Stephen Volk, published by Spectral Press, is a triumph. I thought this book would be interesting when I first heard the premise of it, but upon reading it I found it far surpassed my expectations. It's a stunningly original story and a superb example of the novella as an art form.
Some specifics: set in the early Seventies, Whitstable’s central character is Peter Cushing of Hammer Horror fame. Initially he is holed up in his house in Whitstable after the death of his wife, wanting to see no one, unopened scripts left to gather dust, unanswered phone calls ringing in the silence. One day on the seafront a boy comes up to him, mistaking Cushing for one of his most famous characters: Van Helsing the vampire hunter. The boy is being fed on by a vampire at night (he claims) and he wants Van Helsing’s help… There is no vampire of course, at least not in any literal sense. But there is darkness to confront and heroism and sacrifice required. Cushing is reluctantly dragged out of his grief and tries to help the boy.
It’s a brilliant premise, but one that could easily have seemed forced or exploitative in the wrong hands. Fortunately, Volk doesn't put a foot wrong. The result is a book that isn't a horror story, but a one that could only have been written by someone with a deep understanding and love of the genre. Elements of vampire lore and Hammer films are woven through the fabric this realistic story. And the characterisation of Cushing himself is deft, the depiction of his grief deeply moving.
And, and.... god I could just keep piling on the superlatives, but I'll rein myself in. Just promise me you'll read it.
(Buy Whitstable from the Spectral Press Shop)