If you threw Douglas Adams, Robert Rankin, and Hunter S. Thompson in a blender, well, you’d get quite a mess actually. But if you threw a handful of their books in a blender… no, that’d still make a mess. OK, pretend you could magically combine the best of what makes each of those authors unique into a single work and what you ended up with might read something like Jack Barrow’s The Hidden Masters and the Unspeakable Evil.
The Three Hidden Masters – two from Hemel Hempstead, one from Bricket Wood (you’ll get that once you’ve read the book) – are pretty low-key, laid-back guys. Of course, all the beer, rum and weed they consume contributes to that. So when their friend Geoff, the Fourth Hidden Master (from Blackpool), contacts them for help it’s rather an effort for Clint, Nigel and Wayne to mobilize for a weekend trip up there to lend a hand.
It seems strange things are afoot in Blackpool. Initially it appears to be confined to the model village Geoff is building, where figures are moving around of their own accord and, even more disturbing, figures Geoff didn’t even make for the village are appearing out of nowhere. If that was the only strange thing happening it could be written off as voodoo gone wrong, which has been known to happen to Geoff on an occasion or two.
It quickly becomes apparent, however, that there are larger forces at work in Blackpool. Is it simply that the local council has disturbing plans to turn Blackpool into the Las Vegas of England, or is something more sinister at work, something that could threaten to tear a hole in the fabric of the Universe? Well, whatever it is, the Hidden Masters have to wrap things up by Sunday night… they do have to be back at work on Monday after all.
Author Jack Barrow has created a very strange animal in The Hidden Masters and the Unspeakable Evil, a bizarre mash-up of magic, organized crime, and unlikely heroes, with a dose of stoner road trip thrown in for good measure. The magic is not the wands and broomsticks variety though, but is more ancient spells and incantations. Of course, when your magicians are fond of beer, rum, and weed, well, they often end up with questionable – and highly amusing – results for their efforts.
Barrow himself plays the role of third-person omniscient narrator in order to explain certain magical concepts in greater detail, always with tongue planted firmly in cheek:
You don’t need to be a diviner, or even a hidden master, to have experienced a reality quake. Think of all those times when you have learned something that changed your understanding of the world around you. It can be something as simple as learning that you have been labouring under a misapprehension all your life, such as having grown up believing that a favourite song was written by The Beatles which then turns out to be by the Small Faces. I’m not going to say which song because I feel stupid now, but stupidity is sometimes in the nature of reality quakes.
The odd reality quake aside, the book moves along nicely, easily shifting tempo between conversation pieces in which the Hidden Masters swap sarcastic quips and pop culture observations, and manic bursts of all out action. The set piece where Wayne and Clint actually get pulled into the miniature model village – worth the price of admission on its own – is absolutely brilliant (think Honey, I Shrunk the Kids but with drunk, stoned magicians and the Village People).
Now, this book is decidedly not going to be for everyone. In addition to the magic, which may not be your cup of tea, the book is also quite silly. In fact, at times it borders on the absurd. Of course, I mean silly and absurd in the way the Monty Python crew quite often ventured boldly into the silly and absurd. Which is another thing The Hidden Masters and the Unspeakable Evil is, bold. Barrow has bravely gone all in with the absurdity, and dares the reader to come along for the gonzo ride.
So, if you like off-the-wall adventures and have the type of sense of humor that appreciates the absurd, grab a beverage – the Hidden Masters recommend dark rum – and give it a go.