Stephen Volk has been in the writing game a very long time. He has also been working on films for an equally long time, with screenwriting credits going back as far as Ken Russell’s Gothic in 1986 and some notable efforts such as 1988’s The Kiss, which makes him better equipped than most any other writer to tackle the early life of Alfred Hitchcock. Leytonstone, his deep dive into a very Hitchcockian childhood, is in fact a novella, initially due for release as a limited signed and numbered hardback, with only 125 copies to be printed, as well as an unlimited paperback and an ebook. Volk has already managed a hugely well-received excursion into similar territory with Whitstable, also from Spectral Press, his engagement with Peter Cushing, and his run at Hitchcock benefits from having a notorious incident to build on – the young Alfred’s incarceration in police cells to teach him the wages of sin.

In Volk’s hands, this incident becomes the lynchpin of a psychological and eventually criminal drama as dark and twisted as anything in the real-life Hitchockian imagination, all set within a lovingly recreated and deeply atmospheric rendition of the late Edwardian Leytonstone of Hitchock’s childhood. The hints of the film career to come are sketched in very lightly, enough to provide hooks for knowledgeable readers without leaving any sense that the story is being pulled out of shape by them. The Catholic concerns of I Confess are on full view in young Fred’s schooling at the hands of the Jesuits, dogged by sin and guilt and concealment, and the actual imprisonment is described in chilling terms. Fred’s subsequent actions in the shadow of this incident, and the consequences it brings to his parents, are not going to win him any sympathizers, but they are certainly psychologically understandable, and if anyone ever suspects that the Master of Suspense’s oeuvre was conceived out of childhood trauma, Volk provides all the evidence and background that they should need. And almost needless to say, he deploys his resources with the deft ease you’d expect from such a seasoned writer.

This is a novella, so readers should know that they are getting a shorter work. That said, it doesn’t overplay its hand or overextend its story, and punches well above its weight. For Hitchcock buffs out there, it’s probably indispensable, and delivers valuable extra context for his non-British fans. For other readers, it’s still  gripping and immersive tale, putting a fresh shine on the epithet Hitchcockian despite its period setting.



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