The Master is a short horror novel written by Guy N. Smith. It was first published in 1988 and is a little over 200 pages long. On the front cover of the book, underneath the title, there is a sentence that states: ‘Dark, Satanic Evil Haunts The Scottish Highlands.’ I think that those few words might give you a good idea of what to expect should you ever decide to read the book.
The Master has two main characters, Ann Rawsthorne and Phil Cumbes. They are both teachers at Hurst College, an exclusive boarding school that has the kind of fees that make it affordable only to the rich. It is also apparent that the parents who send their children to Hurst are probably more concerned with getting them out of the way than with their education.
The reader meets Ann in the first chapter and finds her attending an interview for a position at Hurst. Ann doesn’t expect to get the job and after meeting the headmaster, Mr Lazenby, who is rather a sinister fellow, and seeing what a bleak and depressing place the school is, Ann is not so sure that she even wants the job. It is good money though. She would be a fool if she didn’t take the job if it was offered to her.
Money talks and chapter two finds Ann sitting on the staff bench at Hurst, watching the school football team take a beating on the pitch. It’s winter, it’s cold, and she hates football, but at Hurst the headmaster expects his staff to turn out and support the team. More than this, he expects his team to win. Losing is not acceptable as far as the headmaster is concerned and there is not a pupil, or a teacher, who does not fear his wrath.
Phil Cumbes is Hurst’s senior master. Like Ann, Phil is introduced in chapter one, and there is an almost instant attraction between the two teachers. This is something that would also be frowned upon by the headmaster should he become aware of it. The headmaster frowns on many things. He is a hard man to please. What he values, above all else, is physical fitness and he expects his pupils to be the elite (think Hitler trying to build his super-race).
Ann and Phil are in many ways outsiders within the school, and they have no idea of what is going on behind the scenes, or of the headmaster’s hidden agenda, the origins of which, if they knew where to look, could be found in the history of Hurst College.
I didn’t particularly dislike The Master, but neither did I particularly enjoy the book. I found it a little hard to get into the story at first and sometimes the dialogue didn’t seem very natural. On the positive side, if positive is the right word, I think that Smith managed to create a very strong character when he dreamed up Lazenby, the headmaster. He’s intimidating; he’s scary, and he’s just plain nasty. I can’t remember when I have encountered such a sinister character, the master’s evil oozes from every page. He truly is the stuff of nightmares.