Holiday reading – ‘Whitstable’ and ‘The Nine Deaths of Dr. Valentine’

Madame WAYRF and I are off for a rare weekend away, sans the kids. This is to celebrate a significant birthday, as well as our 10th wedding anniversary (do take a moment to say ‘ahhhh’, if you’d like), and it’s fair to say that we can’t wait. It’ll be a great chance to relax, swim in the pool, eat/drink too much, and spend some quality time together.

It’s also the opportunity for me to buy a couple of books; going on holiday is the one time in the year when I can indulge my passion (more or less) guilt-free, and buy something new (rather than second-hand) that I’ve really been looking forward to. For this trip, I’ve picked two very reasonably priced novellas from the award-winning Spectral Press.

whitstableI’ve been aware of Spectral for a while now; they’ve made their name through the production of high-quality, limited edition chap books.  I’ve been keeping a close eye on their lists, and was delighted to discover that they were moving into the e-books market. I snapped up copies of Whitstable and The Nine Deaths of Dr. Valentine to take away with me.

Whitstable was published to celebrate the centenary of the birth of British actor (and horror movie stalwart) Peter Cushing. Set in 1971, it features a Cushing withdrawn from the world, and mourning the death of his beloved wife Helen. Walking on Whitstable beach, Cushing encounters a boy who recognises him from his films, taking him to be Dracula’s nemesis Van Helsing. The boy pleads for his help, convinced that his mother’s boyfriend is a vampire…

I’ve long been a Cushing fan – I grew up watching a lot of Hammer, Amicus and other British horror films from the 50s, 60s and 70s, taped from the Friday late-night double bill. That would be enough in itself, but I was also pleased to learn that Whitstable author Stephen Volk was the twisted genius behind the BBC’s 1992 paranormal-hoax-drama Ghostwatch. I remember watching it when it was first transmitted (it has never been repeated, such was the furore it caused, although it is available on DVD), and it’s no exaggeration to say it scared the shit out of me (and not just because it featured a possessed Michael Parkinson). I’ve never forgotten one scene, where a ghostly figure is seen by accident – the camera moves swiftly back to catch it again, but it has disappeared… Brrrrrrr.

dr valentineClassic horror movies are also the inspiration behind John Llewellyn Probert’s The Nine Deaths of Dr. Valentine, this time those of Vincent Price. The Bristol police are baffled by the murders of several doctors, killed in the style of Price films. The only man responsible died many years ago – or did he..?

Once again, this sounds right up my boulevard, and speaks to the boy in me who watched through his fingers as Price turned his performance up to 11 in The Abominable Dr. Phibes and Theatre of Blood. If you’re not familiar with it, the latter film is well worth a look – the plot concerns a deranged actor, murdering critics in the style of Shakespearean deaths. Very over the top, but also very funny. I’m sure Will would have loved it.

Nine Deaths sounds like a lot of fun – written in primary colours which should contrast well with Whitstable‘s more sombre tones. Both books seem to resonate with passions and interests from my own childhood, which is interesting given I’ll be reading them over a weekend without my own children. Like the trip itself, I can’t wait to get started – but, like a proper grown-up, I’m going to restrain myself and wait until Friday. I’m expecting to rattle through both books before the weekend is over, and reviews will certainly follow next week. Until then, keep reading, and try to keep the place tidy while I’m away. Adios, amigos.


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