Whitstable by Stephen Volk

I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect from this novella, but I was very intrigued by the sound of it. The author is a life-long Peter Cushing fan, and in this book he has created a tribute to his hero. It is a very moving story set immediately after the death of Cushing’s beloved wife Helen. His grief is all-consuming and seems set to destroy what’s left of the man, until a chance encounter with a young lad forces Cushing back into the world.

The opening part of the story is a heartbreaking portrayal of desperate grief. Life means nothing, is nothing, without Helen to share it with. Cushing is broken, hunched and frail, hiding from well-meaning neighbours and friends. Even the postman’s daily delivery causes him anguish; he might be forced to connect in some way with someone. But the fear of being intruded upon within his own home sends him out, down to the sea. Here, alone, he can indulge in memories of better times. It is here that the boy finds him.

Like everyone in Whitstable the boy, Carl, knows him. Although to Carl he is Van Helsing, vampire hunter. And that is a very fortunate thing, because Carl is under attack from a predatory vampire who steals into his room nightly. This vampire is his soon-to-be stepfather, and Carl would like Van Helsing to destroy the monster before it’s too late. Cushing is disturbed by the encounter, enough to investigate a little further into the kind of man Carl is living with.

What develops is a beautifully-paced story about the monstrous side of human nature. It unfolds without any haste, and there is a lot packed into the hundred or so pages. Cushing’s gentlemanly character is brought out, his impeccable manners and sense of decency are lovingly drawn. Les, the bogeyman of the piece, is also given a humanity despite his obvious guilt. Volk uses plenty of film references, giving them to Cushing to draw strength and inspiration from. I thought this was very nicely done. There is also a scene set in a cinema where the action on-screen is intercut with that going on in the stalls, which works so well. The idea of a real-life horror dragging a horror actor back to life is splendid, and has a slightly twisted redemptive quality.

At times I found Whitstable unbearably sad, but it also holds out the possibility of hope. It’s an affecting story, well worth the time invested in reading it. The image of an honourable man will long endure.

Whitstable is available to order in Paperback from Spectral Press. My thanks to the publisher for sending me an advance eBook for review.

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