Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Book Review: Anno Dracula, by Kim Newman

My friend Tim was the first person to show me a copy of Neil Gaiman's A Study in Emerald and when I was done reading it, I proclaimed "That was the second best Sherlock Holmes/Jack the Ripper/Cthulhu Mythos crossover story I've ever read!" (1)

If I wanted to broaden my statement slightly to to include Sherlock Holmes/Jack the Ripper/horror stories in general (still not the most crowded arena), I think that Study drops down to third place, because Anno Dracula is just astounding. (2)

It's an alternate history story where Count Dracula's plans were not foiled by Van Helsing and his crew, but instead, he becomes the prince consort to Queen Victoria and transforms her, and, through his offspring, a certain percentage of the population of England, to vampires. This precipitates a rather large change in society, as one might expect.

The first chapter is from the point of view of Jack Seward, one of Van Helsing's cohorts from Dracula. Now, normally, I'd spoiler tag this kind of thing, but since it's the first chapter, what's the point? Jack Seward is Silver Knife, aka Jack the Ripper, and he's killing vampire prostitutes. 

It's a gutsy move, but I think it works. Alfred Hitchcock is well known for his explanation about the difference between "surprise" and "suspense". Surprise is a boring conversation followed by an explosion from a bomb hidden beneath the table and is good for 15 seconds of fright. Suspense is that same conversation, except the audience knows about the bomb and it's good for 15 minutes of fright.

Seward is crazy and haunted and broken, he hates what Dracula has done to England, but he's not unsympathetic. He runs a clinic where one of the main volunteers and that adds to the tension.

We get a bunch of strong female characters, which I always like. Geneviève Dieudonné is an elder vampire, and I was surprised that she was noteworthy enough to merit a wikipedia article of her own. (Also, it has a picture, and she's blonde. I always imagined her looking like Sophie Marceau.)

Le Sigh. That's my girlfriend!

She was a physician's daughter in her mortal life, and when the story begins, she's working at Seward's clinic, until she's conscripted into the investigation by Inspector Lestrade of Sherlock Holmes fame. 

This is the arena where I think Anno Dracula succeeds so brilliantly. It overflows with both historical and fictional characters of the era, as disparate as Beatrice Potter to Barnabas Collins. It's a great deal of fun trying to identify this character or that. (The sequel, if possible, is stuffed even fuller. Even minor characters are cameos from some other story. Any book with Snoopy from Peanuts, Pinhead from Hellraiser, Jay Gatsby, Monk Mayfair (3) AND Edgar Allen Poe as the Red Baron's biographer is okay with me!)

We also get Charles Beauregard, a widowed agent of the Diogenes Club, which in this series is a front for the British secret service, who has become engaged to his late wife's cousin, Penelope .It's a great bit of character study, because he they both know that Pamela was his first choice. 

Kate Reed, young vampire reporter (and reportedly a character cut from an early draft of Dracula) is all kinds of awesome. Newman really writes women well. (If you're wondering and not familiar with his work, he's a boy Kim and not a lady Kim.)

The stakes get higher, as underworld figures find the increased law enforcement activity putting a crimp in their style. I really enjoyed the resolution, too.

It's a great book and I'm looking forward to the fourth in the series. 

1- I guess, despite the time frame and the opening murder, in Whitechapel, Emerald isn't actually considered a "Jack the Ripper" story. However, I was under that impression at the time, and calling it a Sherlock Holmes/Murder in Whitechapel/Cthulhu Mythos story.

2- The first, being, of course, A Night in the Lonesome October.

3- Since we had Doc Savage and John Sunlight in Roadmarks, I would like to believe they exist in the same continuity as the Anno Dracula books. 


  1. There are few certainties in life--actually death is the only certainty, not even taxes is a certainty if you're one of the few that's set up right--and it's wise to never say never, but I will NEVER NEVER no NOT EVER read another vampire or zombie book or watch a vampire or zombie movie/TV show. NEVER NEVER NEVER not for as long as I might have left on this mortal mudball. God damn, I hate vampires and zombies. They're the FUCKING DEATH OF LITERATURE.

    By the way, I don't like them.

    --Chris DeVito (P.S. A Night in the Lonesome October doesn't count.)

    1. But you'd totally be into a story about vampires biting zombies and turning them into zompires, right? I mean, two negatives make a positive, and all that.

    2. I probably won't persuade you, but the book is from 1992, so it precedes much of the vampire pop culture glut.

      I think the book is solid enough that if stripped out the vampire element and just had the same cast of characters trying to solve a mundane murder (a demonsterization, kind of like a Pride and Prejudice and Zombies in reverse), it would still be a tremendously entertaining read.

    3. But what about the werewolves, Zach? What about the werewolves?!

    4. Well, obviously the zompires will turn into werezomps at the full moon.

      Do I have to explain EVERYTHING?!