Last November, on a very dark night in North Norfolk when the ground fog drifted across the fields, I looked out across the Burn, across the pasture, and up the hill, and I saw two glowing red dots burning steadily in the blackness. For several seconds we stared at one another, those glowing red dots and I, until they abruptly winked out.
Car tail-lights, certainly. Had to have been. Some people claim that Black Shuck only has one eye.
Since October is the month when we traditionally think of things that go bump in the night, and Jack-O’Lantern, black dogs, weird women and other eerie stuff, I thought I’d offer a recommendation for some creepy-good entertainment.
East Anglia’s Black Shuck
I’m far more into folklore than horror movies, in fact, I never watch horror movies at all. I do enjoy the occasional otherworldly story, though. One of my enduring favourite series of books is Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising trilogy, set in Wales. There’s a prophecy in the book: ‘On the Day of the Dead, when the year too dies, must the youngest open the oldest hills…” I still remember that verbatim, I’m not going to tell you how many decades later, and it still gives me a thrill. But the book I’m going to share isn’t about folklore, it’s about horror movies. And magic.
The book is Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Silver Nitrate. It’s always a huge pleasure for me to get my hands on a book where the dialog is effortless, the characters are completely engaging, and the plot is fantastic yet just credible. Moreno-Garcia excels at this.
Monserrat is a sound engineer. She fixes crappy film recordings. She doesn’t particularly like people, doesn’t pay much attention to her appearance, and still limps after multiple surgeries to correct a twisted leg. Her lifelong friend Tristán is a second-tier actor with psychic (and physical) scars from a fatal automobile accident ten years previous. The two of them have looked after one another since childhood, although Monserrat has done the bulk of the work supporting Tristán, who is emotionally damaged, self-absorbed, and has a history of substance issues. Nevertheless, Tristán is a wholly likeable character, and who but someone you’ve had a relationship with for most of your life could get away with a remark like ‘Hey, check out the boner-killer outfit’?
The two of them have spent countless weekend evenings together watching horror films, Monserrat’s passion. Not so much Tristán’s, but it’s part of their bond. When Tristán chances to meet a former director of classic horror movies, he and Monserrat fall into a cataclysm of cursed magic, unstable silver-nitrate film reels, and murder, and find themselves pitted against a master sorcerer caught between death and life.
There are masterful scenes that evoke the camera-work and special effects of the best horror-movie tropes (horror movies may not be my thing but I still recognise them, and you will too) and the plot is so tightly crafted that if you are willing to suspend disbelief in filmmaking and magic, it is most persuasive. Best of all, there’s an endearing spirit in Tristán and Monserrat’s relationship that keeps you rooting for them as they come into their own magic.
A very satisfying book. I finished it and said, ‘Well. That was really good!’