The Hammer of Dr Valentine by John Llewellyn Probert
Two years ago, a series of horrific murders shocked the city of Bristol. These were killings so in their planning, and so outrageous in their execution, that they made national headlines for weeks.
Now the journalists who wrote the stories behind those headlines are beginning to die, in even more gruesome, even more flamboyant, and even more unbelievable than the murders they themselves wrote about at such length in the national dailies all those months ago.
Dr Edward Valentine, brilliant surgeon and the maniac responsible for the Nine Deaths, has not been seen since he escaped the police following a final confrontation.
Has he returned?
Is he now intent on punishing the British tabloid press that he feels has misrepresented him?
Has he chosen as the most appropriate method of punishment that most British of institutions, The Hammer Horror film?
And how many times will the Hammer of Dr Valentine strike before he can be stopped?
Of course, there’s only one way to find out…
Back in 2012 I was lucky enough to read The Nine Deaths of Dr Valentine. It was a wonderfully ghoulish, blacker-than-black tale from the deranged mind of John Llewellyn Probert. What could be better than a doctor pushed to the brink of madness who decides to take the most over the top of revenges against his enemies? It was great, gory fun with a creepy, comedic air.
I’m glad to say that the gruesome doctor has now returned. Once again he is intent on setting his skewed version of the world to rights. His target this time? The tabloid journalists who have besmirched his good name. His method of revenge? The various deaths depicted in the films of Hammer Horror. Blending the theatrical with the cinematic, Dr Valentine is determined to cut a bloody swath through the British countryside and the media. The good news? The doctor is no longer alone and his new assistant is just as keen to see their unique brand of justice delivered.
Every good criminal mastermind requires an arch nemesis, and in the case of Dr Valentine it is the long suffering Detective lnspector Longdon. Hoping for nothing other than a quiet semi-retirement, Longdon finds himself dragged back into Valentine’s carnival-esque fun house of horror. The ensuing game of cat and mouse that develops between the two is one of the novel’s many highlights.
You know what? I’ve been reviewing books for a while now *checks calendar*, coming up on five years as it turns out, and the one thing that makes me keep wittering on is instances like this. When you discover an author who is obviously entirely in thrall to his literary creation. Yes, I’ll not deny that this is some pretty dark subject matter on display here, but it is immediately obvious that John Llewellyn Probert loves writing this character. That sense of unrestrained joy is evident in every single line of every single page. You can’t help but get drawn in. You should abhor Valentine yet you can’t help but find yourself rooting for him. All his potential victims are pretty loathsome sorts, in each instance they get almost exactly what they deserve.
The presentation of this novel is, as I’ve come to expect from Spectral Press, flawless. A striking cover design that catches the eye, and at the end of the main narrative some marvellous additions. There are pages of notes where the author cites all of the various Hammer references. This extra layer of insight is a real treat. It proves what I had already suspected; this isn’t just your average common or garden horror novel, this is a love letter to the genre.
I’m going to keep banging on about The League of Gentlemen adapting Dr Valentine for television. I mentioned it back in 2012, and I’ll mention it again now. This book has that perfect blend of macabre laughs and spine tingling terror. I can’t think of a better homage to Hammer. I’d love to see the over the top set pieces, thrills and spills combined with Llewellyn Probert’s heartfelt nostalgia brought to life. In, what I am sure is an entirely unrelated note, I spotted that Reece Shearsmith has a cover blurb *crosses fingers, waits patiently for imminent announcement*
As an aside, today’s review was brought to you by The Dark Side of Classical Music. I like to think the good doctor would heartily approve. It’s setting the tone perfectly. I’m sat here right now trying to think of suitably outlandish headlines I would write about Valentine if I were a journalist. The best I can come up with is either
Devil Doctor Dispatches Despicable Deviants
Psychotic Surgeon Snuffs Snivelling Scribes
I’ll let you decide which is the best, but for the curious amongst you I’m currently leaning toward option two. It’s all about the sensationalist alliteration don’t you know!
If you enjoyed The Nine Deaths of Dr Valentine then you’ll definitely get a kick out of this sequel. More mayhem, more murder and every dismemberment pulled off with typically extravagant flair. If you haven’t read either of the books I strongly suggest it’s worth your time seeking them both out. Small press horror fiction doesn’t get much better than this.
The Hammer of Dr Valentine is published by Spectral Press. For more details check out their website here. I do hope this isn’t the last we’ve seen of Edward Valentine.