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Vampire

‘SALEM’S LOT by Stephen King

'SALEM'S LOT - Stephen King ‘SALEM’S LOT

Stephen King (stephenking.com)

Hodder & Stoughton (hodder.co.uk)

£9.99

This review/essay originally appeared as part of the King For A Year project, and appears here in its original form, by permission.

…the Lot’s knowledge of the country’s torment was academic. Time went on a different schedule there. Nothing too nasty could happen in such a nice little town. Not there.

Like many people of my generation – I was born about two months after the events of ‘Salem’s Lot – my first exposure to Stephen King’s vampire story was through Tobe Hooper’s 1979 mini-series adaptation, a series that still, almost forty years later, gives me the willies when I happen upon it while channel-surfing. I first read the book in my early teens, and have read it maybe half a dozen times since, and I am happy to report that it is still as fresh – and as bone-chillingly frightening – as it was that first time.

Late summer 1975: Benjaman Mears, a successful author recently widowed in a terrible accident, has returned to the Southern Maine town where he grew up to write a new novel. ‘Salem’s Lot, a town of some 1300 souls, hasn’t changed much in the almost thirty years of his absence, but that won’t be the case for long. Ben meets Susan in the town’s park – she is reading his book – and love blossoms quickly. But the disappearance of a young boy – Ralphie Glick – and the sudden death of his older brother, Danny, plunge the town into a unique kind of hell, and as the body count grows, Ben and Susan find themselves aligned with a small group of like-minded people – high-school teacher Matt Burke, Doctor Jimmy Cody, Father Donald Callaghan and young Mark Petrie – who are convinced that the town has fallen victim to a vampire, one of the new residents of the storied Marsten House which looms over the town from its high perch.

Like many of King’s earlier novels, ‘Salem’s Lot seems to have entered the global consciousness as a kind of byword for vampire infestation. Even those of us who haven’t read the book have probably seen David Soul’s turn as Ben Mears and James Mason’s masterful Straker, and have some idea of the direction the story takes. The book is a slow-moving, atmospheric behemoth, very different from King’s previous – first – novel, the slimline and spare Carrie.

The story unfolds over the course of September and early October 1975, beginning with the arrival of Ben and the mysterious new residents of the old Marsten House. Told from multiple viewpoints, this is King doing what he has always done best: the dynamics of small-town America, the relationships and petty intrigues that define every small town not just in America, but across the developed world. The town has a long and sometimes unsavoury history, and King spends time building the bigger picture – the great fire of 1951; the tragedy that surrounded Hubie Marsten and his family – the deviation from the main storyline to touch on this history, and to do a “flyover” of the town, are devices designed to put the reader in the centre of the action, in ‘Salem’s Lot itself.

When the horror begins, it comes as a shock, and the early targets of Messrs Barlow and Straker are designed to hit the reader hardest: Irwin Purinton’s dog hung from the town cemetery’s gates; the disappearance of young Ralphie Glick closely followed by the death of his older brother Danny. King’s strength here is in the power of suggestion: very little of the horror happens within the pages of the novel, and is often left to the imagination of the reader; subtle noises from the next room, or the slow pan of the metaphorical camera away from the action at the critical moment are used to astounding effect, forcing the reader to create the scene in their own head, and come to their own conclusions.

There are scenes that stick with the reader (and, to be honest, many of them play over in my own head as the corresponding scenes from the television series): the delivery of the large crate (presumably containing Barlow in his coffin) to the Marsten House by Hank Peters and Royal Snow, a beautifully-constructed piece of suspense that sums up much of the book in its cold-sweat inducing narrative, and the closing exchange between the two protagonists.

“What was down there?” Royal asked. “What did you see?”

“Nothin’,” Hank Peters said, and the word came out in sections divided by his clicking teeth. “I didn’t see nothin’ and I never want to see it again.”

The other image is that of young Danny Glick knocking on Mark Petrie’s bedroom window, a scene made all the more frightening by the seeming innocence of the source of evil. Given the choice between Barlow and Danny Glick, this reader would run screaming to the ancient creature that started it all.

King uses the story to examine the question of faith, and the symbols that we use to show our religious affiliations. Without straying from the accepted lore – sunlight, crucifix, garlic, holy water – the author uses Matt Burke and Jimmy Cody to provide logical explanations for these weapons against the vampire and, famously, Donald Callaghan to examine the difference between the religious symbol and the power that it possesses. What makes ‘Salem’s Lot special, makes it one of the defining works of modern vampire fiction, is its grounding in reality, the characters’ understanding that what is happening is ridiculous, unreal, something that should not happen to normal people in the normal world.

“…If you’re locked up, that will serve his purpose well. And if you haven’t considered it, you might do well to consider it now: There is every possibility that some of us or all of us may live and triumph only to stand trial for murder.”

It’s easy to say now that ‘Salem’s Lot is a classic of the genre, one of perhaps three books that epitomise the modern vampire novel (to my mind George R. R. Martin’s Fevre Dream and Robert McCammon’s They Thirst come a close second and third), but take a moment to consider: ‘Salem’s Lot is the sophomore effort of a young writer who was, as yet, unproven beyond that slim first novel. Already there are signs of the writer King will become, many of the recurring themes in his work beginning in this blood-curdling masterpiece. And if it didn’t exist in the shadow of the great Dark Tower when it was first published in 1975, King made sure to bring it into the fold by re-introducing Donald Callaghan into his world over 25 years after the book’s publication.

In large part, I feel I’m preaching to the choir, but there are many who will have absorbed the basic points of ‘Salem’s Lot through some strange form of osmosis, and “know” it in much the same way that they “know” Dracula or Frankenstein without ever having read the original work. There is more to ‘Salem’s Lot than that creepy kid at the bedroom window, or the shuffling noises coming from the back of the truck; there is more to ‘Salem’s Lot than an ancient vampire and the havoc he wreaks on a small New England town. This is one of the finest works in King’s forty-year career, a book to be savoured again and again, safe in the knowledge that you will take something new away on each reading. And, in case you’re wondering: nothing sparkles here; this is horror fiction as it should be: dark, atmospheric and, best of all, frightening.

THE CITY OF MIRRORS by Justin Cronin

The City of Mirrors - Justin Cronin THE CITY OF MIRRORS

Justin Cronin (enterthepassage.com)

Orion Books (www.orionbooks.co.uk)

£20.00

The Twelve have been defeated and with them, the hordes of virals that sprung from their bloodlines. Amy is gone and Alicia has fled into the wilderness, her infection forcing her to seek isolation. As the years pass, the people of Kerrville grow complacent: they are safe, the virals no longer a threat and they begin to re-inhabit the country, leaving the walls of the city behind for the open country and the chance of a normal life. But Zero, the creature who was once a man named Timothy Fanning, has been biding his time, waiting for the right moment, that moment when the remains of humanity have forgotten to fear the virals, assuring his victory. But the survivors of First Colony have long memories, big dreams and a secret weapon that could well tip the balance in their favour in the epic war that looms on the horizon.

It is almost four years since the second volume of Justin Cronin’s Passage Trilogy, The Twelve, left us on a cliff-hanger. The final volume, The City of Mirrors, picks up eight months after those events, but dwells there only briefly before transporting us over twenty years into the future to a world that is much changed from the one we saw during the earlier volumes. Our band of heroes – the survivors of First Colony and those they picked up along the way – have separated over the years each going their own way, doing their best to find their own place in this new and seemingly viral-free world. Virals haven’t been spotted since the liberation of Homeland and the destruction of The Twelve and, as a result, humanity have largely forgotten their fears and begin to spread throughout the land, shunning the protective city walls that they believe they no longer need.

[Behind every great hatred is a love story.]

In some ways The City of Mirrors is about tying off any loose ends, answering any lingering questions that might remain from The Passage and The Twelve. Foremost of these, of course, is the story behind Timothy Fanning, the first man to be infected by the virus, and who we have therefore known as Zero throughout the series. While The Twelve – the first twelve people that Fanning infected, rapists and murderers all – have been destroyed, Fanning still lives, spending his time in the empty halls of Grand Central Station, reliving the moment of his heartbreak – the catalyst for his eventual infection – again and again for over a century. And it is, as you might expect, a love story, the tale of forbidden love that comes to a sudden and bitter end, driving Timothy Fanning first to murder, and then to the Bolivian jungle where his fate awaited. It’s not the first time in the series that Cronin has taken us inside the head of one of the virals, nor even the first time that we’ve been inside the head of Zero himself, but this visit presents the reader with an interesting challenge even while it helps us to understand the mind-set of this creature who has brought the world to its knees: Cronin presents the human Fanning and, in the process of laying out his tale, makes him a sympathetic and even likeable person, then leaves us to reconcile this before picture with the reality of the after that has driven much of the trilogy’s storyline.

In a very revealing moment that can only be described as soul-destroying, Cronin points to the banality of the destruction of humanity as we now know it, the single lynchpin that defined the moment between life and destruction, and leaves the reader with the overpowering sense that it really is as simple as all that.

[Not an hour would have gone by, her body grown cold in my embrace, before I would have followed her from this world. That, too, was part of my design.]

The City of Mirrors is something of a different beast from the two preceding volumes. For much of its duration, the virals are missing from the storyline and what the characters seem to be seeing – though as readers we know very differently – is a life of comparative normality stretching ahead of them. It’s a testament to Cronin’s skill as a storyteller that he can keep the reader’s interest even while not very much is happening: the characters have grown older and seemingly wiser, though not all content with their lot. While Peter Jaxon – in one of the two lives he seems to be living – is now the president of the Texas Republic and is happy to let people move outside the walls of its capital, Kerrville, Michael Fisher is convinced that there is still trouble ahead and has found a container ship that he is attempting to make seaworthy in order to get himself and as many people as he can recruit off the continent, convinced that the supposed barrier erected around the country’s waters is nothing more than a legend designed to contain the people in times when the technology was still reliable.

As these two individual strands, and the strands of a half-dozen other characters, converge and separate only to converge again at some later point, Cronin teases the reader with hints of what is still to come. Around the halfway point, he catches us unawares, and brings the horror of what the virals are in a single, innocent-seeming sentence:

[As he knelt to look, he heard a high-pitched clicking above his head.]

That clicking is a sound that haunts anyone who has read the earlier volumes and when we hear it here, it comes with a rush of adrenaline and puts us on our guard.

No-one will be disappointed with the epic battle to which the story is inevitably building, but it is the book’s final section that touches the reader the most, and ends the trilogy in some considerable style. From the opening pages of The Passage, we have seen many extracts from “The Book of Twelves” and references to “the Third Global Conference on the North American Quarantine Period”. As the trilogy comes to a close, Cronin takes us to the Indo-Australian Republic and introduces us to some of the attendees of the conference, culminating in a beautiful moment that gives the ultimate closure to the story of The Girl From Nowhere and the people who loved her. It is only after the fact that we can stop to realise just how much of the story Cronin must have planned in advance and of the work involved in making everything hang together.

Without a doubt the best of the trilogy, The City of Mirrors provides a satisfying conclusion to the story started over six years ago. I can almost guarantee that readers will come away from this volume with an intense desire to go back to the start and read through to the end. It’s a project I will be undertaking myself in the near future. Justin Cronin is a master storyteller and his post-apocalyptic vision stands alongside the genre’s finest. With The City of Mirrors, a wonderful story in its own right, he also shows an ability to deliver on the promises he made in earlier volumes. An engrossing plot coupled with characters who are at once familiar and strangely changed – whether because of the four years that have passed in real time since we last met them, or because of the twenty years that have passed in the course of the narrative it is difficult to say – brings a fitting close to one of the best pieces of horror fiction produced in the past decade. This is hopefully not the last the genre has heard of Justin Cronin. I can’t help but recommend this – and the preceding two volumes of what can only be described as his masterpiece – unreservedly.

MIDNIGHT CROSSROAD by Charlaine Harris

Midnight-Crossroad-hires MIDNIGHT CROSSROAD

Charlaine Harris (charlaineharris.com)

Gollancz (www.gollancz.co.uk)

£18.99

You might pass through the town of Midnight without noticing it, if it weren’t for the stoplight at the intersection of Witch Light Road and the Davy highway. Most of the town residents are very proud of the stoplight, because they know that without it the town would dry up and blow away.

Welcome to Midnight, Texas, a wide spot in the road grown up around a crossroads that consists of little more than a gas station, a diner and, in the town’s most imposing structure, Midnight Pawn. Online psychic Manfred Bernardo has chosen Midnight as the perfect place to get away from the world and concentrate on his work. Here he finds a small, close-knit community whose worlds will be turned upside down with the discovery of a body in the outskirts of town. Everyone in Midnight has secrets, and this development has the potential to reveal those secrets to the rest of the community.

I’m going to come straight out and admit that I have never read Charlaine Harris before. I did watch the first couple of episodes of HBO’s True Blood, and enjoyed them, before deciding that HBO’s need to turn everything into a soft-porn version of the original material (Game of Breasts, anyone?) wasn’t worth the effort. Which is to say that Midnight Crossroad is my first real experience with this immensely-talented author. Hailed as the start of a new series, the book does have some crossover with Harris’ earlier Lily Bard series, and is set in the same – or at least a very similar – world to the Sookie Stackhouse novels.

The small town of Midnight is populated by an odd (in every sense of the word) assortment from characters. From sometimes-psychic/sometimes-conman Manfred, who is new to town, to his landlord Bobo Winthrop, the owner of Midnight Pawn and a man with an unsavoury past that continues to haunt him in the form of white supremacists searching for a fabled cache of weapons hidden by his grandfather. Throw in a witch (the soft-hearted Fiji), a vampire (Lemuel) and the gay couple who run the town’s nail bar and antiques emporium (now, there’s a combination!), and it’s immediately apparent that this is a town unlike any other you’re likely to have visited.

Harris concentrates, for the most part, on the characters. The murder – and the identity of the victim – is almost incidental, a gentle nudge for each of the town’s residents that allows us to watch how they interact, and the suspicions that are raised, when they come under pressure. The fact that these are beautifully-drawn, vital characters makes this the perfect approach to introducing us to Midnight: these are people with secrets, some of which we learn during the course of the story, others not so much, and their personalities and relationships are what draw us back to the book and keep us reading to the end.

The town itself plays a central role in the story, and becomes a palpable presence as the novel progresses. There is a sense here that the crossroads came first (probably before there were even proper roads), followed by Lemuel and the pawnshop. There is something ancient about the town, a sense that it is biding its time, and we see glimpses of this in some of the more interesting items that seem to have been languishing in Midnight Pawn since long before Bobo took control of the business. The pawnshop is one of the gathering places for the town’s residents, and plays host to an entirely different breed of customer after hours.

While a complete story, a sort of mystery with a touch of the supernatural, Midnight Crossroad gives us the briefest of glimpses into the lives of these people, and this small town. There is so much more to explore and I, for one, am looking forward to our next visit to the town. While this story centres mainly on Bobo, Fiji and Manfred, the peripheral characters are often the most interesting, and tend to be scene-stealers. Lemuel the vampire is mysterious enough, and more than a little creepy, while Olivia is, perhaps, the most secretive member of the community, a woman who isn’t afraid to kill, and is more than capable of doing so with her bare hands. For me, the most intriguing character is the reverend, a quiet man who tends to his small church and the adjoining pet cemetery, but who drops hints during the novel’s climactic scene that there is more to him, a much longer history than even Lemuel’s.

An excellent start to what looks to be an intriguing and very entertaining series, Midnight Crossroad is a small-town American crime novel with a light brush of the supernatural. In a wonderful, captivating voice, Charlaine Harris introduces us to the town and its residents, and sets the scene for what is to follow. Deeply strange, but with enough outside influence to ground the story in reality, Midnight Crossroad feels, on the surface, like a light, jaunty read, but it grips like a thriller and unsettles like the finest horror novel. Well worth the read in its own right, Midnight Crossroad also brings with it the promise of much more to come. I’m sold.

COMPETITION: Win a Signed Copy of THE TWELVE by Justin Cronin

THE TWELVE PB

Today sees the publication, in paperback, of The Twelve, the second part of Justin Cronin’s epic Passage trilogy. To celebrate the occasion, we have a hardcover copy of the novel, signed by the author, to give away to one lucky visitor, thanks to the book’s publisher, Orion Books.

To be in with a chance of winning, all you need to do is post a comment containing the answer to the question below, before midnight (GMT) on Thursday 9th May. I will select one commenter at random on the morning of Friday 10th May and will be in touch to arrange shipment shortly thereafter.

Good luck!

Question: Bernard Kittridge makes an appearance early in The Twelve. By what nickname is he better known to the world?

If you need a helping hand, be sure to check out Justin Cronin reading an excerpt from the book here.

GUEST POST: Justin Cronin Reads from THE TWELVE (Video)

Justin Cronin - Photo credit Julie Soefer
Photograph © Julie Soefer
Name: JUSTIN CRONIN

Author of: A SHORT HISTORY OF THE LONG BALL (1990)
                 MARY AND O’NEIL (2001)
                 THE SUMMER GUEST (2004)
                 THE PASSAGE (2010)
                 THE TWELVE (2012)

On the web: enterthepassage.com

On Twitter: @jccronin

I’m very pleased to welcome Justin Cronin to Reader Dad today. Cronin’s breakthrough novel, The Passage, was published in 2010 to widespread critical acclaim. It stands as one of my favourite novels of recent years, and one of the finest horror novels of the last decade. This month, the second book in the trilogy, The Twelve, is released, picking up where The Passage left off and returning us to a post-apocalyptic world overrun by virals.

In the video below, Justin reads a short section from early in the novel. So sit back, relax, and enjoy.

If you missed yesterday’s blog tour stop, you can find the trailer for The Twelve over at The Book Smugglers. Tomorrow, the tour heads to Sci-Fi Bulletin, where you’ll find more exciting content.

THE TWELVE by Justin Cronin

THE TWELVE - Justin Cronin THE TWELVE

Justin Cronin (enterthepassage.com)

Orion Books (www.orionbooks.co.uk)

£20.00

Released: 25th October 2012

One [book] that doesn’t appear here is Justin Cronin’s forthcoming novel, The Passage. This epic vampire novel won’t be out until summer 2010, but you’ll want to mark your calendar. Take it from Uncle Stevie, this is your basic don’t-miss reading experience.

At the end of 2009, Stephen King, in his Entertainment Weekly column, The Pop of King, listed his top ten books of the year. He made the passing reference, above, to a book that was still ten months from publication and immediately put it on the radar of its target audience. In this reader’s experience, he wasn’t wrong: The Passage is not to be missed, and prospective readers should in no way be put off by King’s brief description, “epic vampire novel”. There is nothing sparkly here, nothing sexy about the “virals” that grace the book’s pages. The Passage stands, in my humble opinion, as one of the best horror novels of the past decade.

Two years later, Cronin returns to his post-apocalyptic world to pick up the story in the equally-epic The Twelve, the second part of his trilogy. It is nigh on impossible to sum up this complex novel in a few hundred words. Far from attempting it, I’ll touch on the main plot points as a taster of what you can expect between the novel’s beautiful covers.

The bulk of The Twelve’s action takes place five years following the events that brought The Passage to a close. Here we become reacquainted with the survivors of First Colony, who have settled into the new world they have found outside the walls that defined the boundaries of much of their lives. Some have settled down, taken jobs, married; others have followed in Alicia’s footsteps and signed up for the Expeditionary, fighting for the safety of their families and friends. And yet others are no longer in the picture, victims of the attack on Roswell at the end of The Passage, or the passing of time between then and now. One thing hasn’t changed: the desire to hunt down and destroy the remaining members of The Twelve, the death-row inmates who are the original carriers of the virus. But in five years, Alicia’s scouting and Peter’s enthusiasm have failed to find a single one, and the leaders of the Expeditionary are on the verge of giving up.

In Iowa, the town of Fort Powell has been turned into a concentration camp under the leadership of Horace Guilder. Reinhard Heydrich would have been proud, and the comparison is impossible not to make.

The bunks were stacked four high, twenty bunk-lengths in each row, ten rows: eight hundred souls crammed like cargo into a lodge the approximate dimensions of a feed shed. People were rising, jamming their children’s heads into hats , murmuring to themselves, their limbs moving with the heavy docility of livestock as they shambled to the door.

Almost 70,000 souls are imprisoned here, guarded by virals and kept in place by the fact that beyond the city’s walls, they are nothing but fodder. Fort Powell has a purpose – a construction project on the edge of the city – but none of the workers have any idea what that purpose might be.

The Twelve opens up the scope of The Passage and gives us our first proper glimpse of the world outside the walls of First Colony. Entire cities filled with people continue to exist despite the threat of virals beyond the walls. Large reserves of oil found scattered across the country ensure that electricity and motor fuel should not be a problem for the foreseeable future. This is a much different world to the one in which the First Colonists believed they were living. As the chapters cycle through the viewpoints of the original group from the first novel, we begin to see different aspects of this new world, the picture coming together slowly, and in small pieces. The five year gap at first seems a strange approach to take, given the action that brought The Passage to an end, but soon becomes clear as we learn the fates of the individuals involved. It’s a cleverly-constructed narrative that ensures the reader never knows more than they should at any given time.

There are two flashback sections early in the novel. The first takes us back to the Year of Zero, and shows us the world during this transition period through the eyes of a handful of characters both old and new. Bearing in mind that this is a period we have yet only seen at a remove – from the remote cabin where Wolgast and Amy hid – it’s interesting to see how the rest of the world fared. Cronin’s influences are clear here, this section most closely resembling the early parts of King’s The Stand: the formation of groups, friendships, loves; the search for a safe place to set up home. There is also a real-world precedent for some of the descriptions used here, and we get a feeling of post-Katrina New Orleans:

He came to other things in the road. An overturned police car, smashed flat. An ambulance. A dead cat. A lot of houses had ‘X’s spray-painted on their doors, with numbers and letters in the spaces.

Here, though it’s not immediately clear how, we see the origins of the camp at Fort Powell, IA, and those of the Donadio family, a line which leads directly to Alicia.

The second flashback takes us back to a field 18 years prior to the main action, and the abduction of a group of people – mostly children – by what seems to be a well-organised group of virals. Again, it’s not immediately clear how this fits with the rest of the story, but Cronin is building foundations for later revelations.

It was always going to be difficult to follow The Passage with something that packed as least as much – if not, preferably, more – punch. In a world where vampires rule, there is always one major consideration: the food supply. When the predators outnumber the prey, problems start to arise. Cronin takes a clever approach to solving this problem, and The Twelve, as much as anything, is about the consequences of this solution. The characters that we love from The Passage are, for the most part, here and intact; older and, in most cases, wiser. The virals, who for the majority of the first novel stayed mainly in the background, are still not the focus of attention here: they are a problem that needs to be solved, but this is not a vampire novel in the traditional sense; it’s a tale of survival against the odds, a post-apocalyptic fable to match the likes of The Stand and Swan Song. Which is not to say they aren’t a threat, and that they are aren’t creepy – they are, on both counts.

As we approach book’s final third, build-up gives way to action, as all of the pieces begin to fall into place. Here, the purpose of the flashbacks become clear, and pieces that were set up as early as The Passage come into play. The concentration camp theme holds, and the planning phase of the final operation resembles a scene from Escape From Sobibor or The Great Escape. It leads to an action-packed, and somewhat surprising finale, an abrupt end that leaves the reader feeling somehow flat, while leaving no doubt as to where the final book in the trilogy is headed.

Cronin slips easily back into the world he created two years ago in The Passage. The Twelve is a much different beast, as the central parts of epic trilogies tend to be. Starting slow, picking up the threads left loose at the end of the first book, Cronin builds slowly towards a false climax, tying up enough loose ends to leave the reader satisfied, while leaving enough to make us want to come back for more. The Twelve is a worthy successor to The Passage, and is well worth the two-year wait we have had to endure to have it in our hands. Cronin’s plotting is as tight as ever, his writing beautiful, flowing – this seven-hundred page novel is gone in the blink of an eye, a testament to how well written it is. Abrupt ending aside, there is much to love about The Twelve, not least the fact that we get to visit once more with old friends. Perfect autumn reading for fans of The Passage, it should also give new readers an excuse to dip their toes in the water. With luck, we won’t have to wait much longer than another two years to find out how this wonderful story plays out.

ANNO DRACULA by Kim Newman

ANNO DRACULA

Kim Newman (www.johnnyalucard.com)

Titan Books (titanbooks.com)

£7.99

Is there a more interesting and populated place and time in recent history than London in the twilight years of the nineteenth century? Peopled by a huge cast of people real and fictional, it is a location and period ripe with opportunity and ideas for any artist willing to do a little research. Anno Dracula, Kim Newman’s cult 1992 horror/romance/alternate history novel takes advantage of this and gives us a view on what London might have been like in 1888 had Dracula not only survived the events of Bram Stoker’s seminal novel, but married Queen Victoria and taken the title of Prince Consort. Published by Titan Books, this cult classic has once again been made available to a wide audience.

The book diverges from Stoker’s novel at the point where Dracula is interrupted in his attempt to “turn” Mina Harker; instead of fleeing, he kills Jonathan Harker and Quincey Morris, scattering the rest of the group and finishing his business with Mina. From there, his rise to power is unstoppable, culminating in his marriage to the queen, and England’s move towards being the foremost vampire nation. As the novel opens, it is 1888, and Jack the Ripper has claimed his third victim. In this alternate universe, the Ripper is exclusively a killer of vampire prostitutes, which has the effect of forcing ever deeper the wedge between vampire and warm (humans). This is a very different London to the one we know: vampires occupy almost every position of power and a full-blown dictatorship is in effect. Dissenters and threats to the crown have been shipped off to concentration camps in the middle of the English countryside, where they will ultimately serve as cattle for the ever-growing vampire population.

Newman’s encyclopaedic knowledge of cinema and horror shines throughout. Only a handful of the characters we meet are original to the author. As well as the remnants of Dracula’s enemies – Dr John Seward and Arthur Holmwood, now Lord Godalming – we encounter, amongst others, the creations of Arthur Conan Doyle (Mycroft Holmes (his brother Sherlock ensconced in one of the aforementioned concentration camps), Moriarty), Sax Rohmer, H.G. Wells, Charles Dickens alongside the likes of Florence Stoker (her husband, Bram, sharing a compound with Sherlock Holmes), Oscar Wilde and Fred Abberline. Into this mix, Newman introduces Charles Beauregard, agent for the shady Diogenes Club, and Genevieve Dieudonne, a four-and-a-half century old vampire who is older even than Dracula.

Beauregard is a sort of nineteenth century John Steed, sword-cane and all: a man about town with a sinister and dangerous background and the skills to ensure his own survival at the expense of an enemy’s. Instructed by the cabal that runs the Diogenes Club (an institution that originates in the work of Conan Doyle) to investigate the Ripper murders, he meets the young-looking Genevieve and together they comb Whitechapel for clues to the identity of the murderer. All around them, the country is falling apart as growing dissent greets the ever tightening grip of the Impaler.

To use Newman’s own phrase, Anno Dracula is an ‘overpopulated period-set “romp”’, and a great deal of time can be spent – and fun had – trying to identify the origins of characters. Despite that, it’s a tightly-plotted and brilliantly-conceived novel that pays homage not only to Stoker’s Dracula, but to the vampire genre in general. Perhaps the most surprising thing about this novel is the fact that Dracula himself is absent for the vast majority of it, putting in a short appearance at the very end in a wonderful and wholly unexpected climax. Despite the subject matter, Newman presents us with a conceivable alternate London: the tensions between vampire and warm, between rich and poor; a city where the rule of law exists hand in hand with the ways of Vlad the Impaler and his kind; a city terrorised by an infamous murderer (the identity of whom is revealed to the reader in the first chapter) whose motives have been shaped to fit this new world order.

If, like me, you missed Anno Dracula the first time around, then this is the perfect opportunity to read one of the finest modern vampire novels ever written, up there with what I consider to the be the “big three”: Stephen King’s ‘Salem’s Lot, Robert McCammon’s They Thirst and George R. R. Martin’s Fevre Dream. Once done, you can take comfort in the fact that Titan will be publishing several other books in the series, so you won’t have to wait too long for your next fix.

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