Monday, 5 May 2008

Guy N. Smith Book Review - The Master

Art teacher Ann Rawsthorne can't believe her luck when she gets a job at Hurst College, an exclusive boarding school for wayward rich kids in the remote Scottish highlands. However, when she arrives she immediately notices that something is wrong. The teachers are all glassy eyed zombies, the students are obsessed with sex, athleticism seems way more important than academics, and the headmaster is a lecherous jerk. Well, so far it all sounds normal, but it's also home to an undead deformed dwarf and a Satanic cult that worships him.

Headmaster Lazenby is the black priest of this evil cult, and the congregation is comprised of the school's top students. Together they perform the usual Satanic shenanigans: sacrificing chickens, gangbanging virgins etc. Basically they need to impregnate a virgin so the Master can be reborn. You see, several hundred years ago the Master was the Laird of Hurst, a deformed dwarf who tortured and tormented the peasants. I guess he was such an asshole than even Hell didn't want him, and he's now a skeletal zombie living in the crypt underneath the school's chapel, waiting to be reborn.

Lazenby rules over the students with an iron fist, ensuring that his cult remains a secret from the teachers and from the outside world. I think this is a bit of a shortsighted plan. What happens when they graduate? One student tries to escape, and when that fails he hangs himself. In order to hide any evidence of wrongdoing, Lazenby insists that he be buried on school grounds. And his father agrees! Another girl dies of a burst appendix, and when her parents insist on taking her body home with them, Lazenby steals it from the morgue. Both bodies get offered to the Master, and eaten up I guess.

I should add that the police are bunch of useless morons. They show up after the students die and again when a local crofter, sick of students stealing his chickens for use in Satanic rituals, tries to burn down the chapel but ends up burning himself down as well (then the dogs eat his barbecued corpse). The cops act all suspicious, and then shrug and leave.

Now it's up to Ann and Phil Cumbes, the PE teacher who takes a liking to her for some reason, to piece together the evidence. Too bad Ann is as dumb as a bag of hammers. She doesn't find it overly suspicious when the headmaster asks her if she's a virgin (correct answer: "Fuck off"). Even after discussing the possibility of students being involved in a Satanic cult and finding a book of Satanic rituals in the chapel, she agrees to go to a midnight service in the underground crypt. When she arrives she finds everyone dressed in black robes, everything draped in black cloth and she still thinks the inverted cross behind the altar is the result of clumsy carpentry. Jesus, lady!

By now it's too late, Lazenby is babbling about the Master and forcing chicken blood down her throat. They pull out the ceremonial Fucking Couch and start stripping, even the Master crawls out of his crypt, eager for a bit of undead action. He even regenerates his undead wing-wong somehow. Thankfully Phil shows up just in time and starts blasting the naked Satanists with a shotgun. They escape just before the crypt collapses, burying the Master and his followers under several tonnes of rubble.

I guess this book was okay. The protagonists are so roughly sketched they might as well be sock puppets, but Headmaster Lazenby was a truly sinister character and about ten times more interesting than the heroes. I was eagerly awaiting the point where he'd receive his just comeuppance, but it never really happened. In fact, the ending seemed rather hasty and unsatisfying for all the suspense that preceded it. I can't say this book made a huge impression on me. Even a brief bout of schoolgirl lesbian experimentation wasn't enough to save it, and that's saying something.

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