Spectral Press, out March 2015
An attempt to toughen up a young boy has unintended – and terrible – consequences…
Last year, Stephen Volk gave us Whitstable, a story that marked the centenary of Peter Cushing’s birth, and put the legendary actor in a situation that mirrored in part elements of his own career. For the second book in what is promised to be a trilogy of tales about key cinematic masters of horror, Volk turns his attention to Alfred Hitchcock, using a story – possibly apocryphal – that the famed director told about his childhood. With deft strokes, he shows us a boy learning much about how the world works and, perhaps more importantly, how it can be manipulated.
Those who know Hitchcock’s body of work very well will no doubt pick up more references in this than I found, but there are resonances throughout which echo forward to the themes (obsessions perhaps might be a better word) that can be found in his films. The way Hitchcock regards the opposite sex is a key part of this, and Volk contrasts the control Fred (as he is known) exerts over a young convent-educated girl with the power that this gives someone else over Fred’s own mother (who is one of the most chilling characters in the whole piece – their relationship is unhealthy, to put it mildly).
Fred’s father is the catalyst for events which cascade beyond his understanding, and Volk allows the reader to feel a pang of pity for him, while at the same time recognising that he has brought the pain on himself. And as for the incident that sparks it all off – well, how many Hitchcock films feature innocents dragged into situations and accused of things they know nothing about?
Volk fills the novella with tiny pieces of detail, extrapolated from research into the local area, and pulls the reader back to the start of the 20th Century; he has also effectively “reverse engineered” Hitchcock’s work to see what elements might have come from his youth, and in doing so presents some interesting psychological insights into the man. The combination of the two makes for a chilling and dark work that might have come from the mind of the Master of Suspense himself.
Verdict: An unexpected journey into a heart of darkness. Recommended. 9/10