Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Book Review: Anno Dracula IV: Johnny Alucard

When anticipating a book I think I will enjoy, I try to go in knowing as little as possible. I don't even read the back cover if I can avoid it. I've been looking forward to the fourth Anno Dracula book since I finished the third one in the 90s. Newman said that the book was nearly completed since 2000. Johnny Alucard finally saw publication in September 2013 and I snapped it up as soon as it was available.

The first book in the series is one of my all time favorite novels. The second is a worthy sequel, and while I found the third somewhat disappointing, it had enough juicy bits to be worthwhile.

I listened to Johnny Alucard as Audible format audiobook, reactivating my membership in order to buy it. William Gaminara again narrates, and while he does a good job when he's emulating a specific American character, such as Orson Welles or Peter Falk as Columbo, his generic American accent remains awful. I'm reminded of Antonio Banderas in Mambo Kings, who learned his lines phonetically. Gaminara is like a voice to speech program that's not quite calibrated correctly. He's great otherwise, but someone should have told him that we just don't sound like that!

The book opens with Coppola's Dracula, which is Francis Ford Coppola filming an adaptation of Dracula in Romania. In this history, Coppola had the same actors and suffered the same difficulties, but filmed Dracula instead of Apocalypse Now. While it's an interesting concept and has some good lines (Robert Duvall as Van Helsing: "I love the smell of spontaneous combustion in the morning. It smells like....salvation."), the whole thing lingered long past its sell-by date. Wikipedia tells me that it won the International Horror Guild Award for Best Long Fiction, and was nominated for the Bram Stoker Award for Best Long Fiction, but I didn't like it at all. I think it could have been cut entirely without diminishing the book in the slightest.

The next segment is called Castle in the Desert. In 1977, an elderly Philip Marlowe investigates the disappearance of his ex-wife's daughter. I am a fan of Marlowe, and I'm always up for a Raymond Chandler Evening (at the the end of someone's day).

Marlowe is assisted by Geneviève Dieudonné. She's a great character. I didn't write down the exact quote, but when they find the kidnapped, brainwashed and vampirized daughter, Geneviève identifies the girl and says to the cult, "It would be best if she were allowed to leave with us." After so many blustering, swaggering dudebro tough guys in fiction, it's nice to read someone so understated.

Taken by itself, the story was pretty good. Its inclusion hardly seemed necessary, despite Marlowe telling Geneviève at the end of the story, "Hey, you should be a P.I. too!"

I was actually pretty annoyed at this point, because it looked like we were just going to get a series of tenuously linked (and previously published) shorter works masquerading as a novel.

We rebound a little with "Andy Warhol's Dracula". This is set in the late 70s. It's not an era that especially interests me, but Newman made it interesting. Carrie Fisher is snorting dehydrated vampire pee with Andy Warhol. Of course she is.

The lead up was great, but the resolution to this segment was disappointing. It has the tendency, which was always present in his books to some degree, to be like LOOK AT ME, GUYS! ISN'T THIS CLEVER?!!! It lacked the subtlety of his other works, and I think it's the subtlety that gave them their appeal. Blade, the Punisher and Hellboy, described well enough to be identifiable, but not named outright, team up with another pop culture vampire hunters of the era and it's just so crowded.

While the book had its moments, I was just about ready to write it off, when we pick up with Geneviève performing an investigation for Orson Welles over in California.

There's only one Dracula: The Series and it doesn't star Jonathan Rhys Meyers
Newman had featured Welles before and clearly knows a lot about him. I liked the details, such as the boxes of sherry. (Welles had often been paid in product for his advertising work during the era, which was a neat bit to include). Orson Welles asked Geneviève what she knew about Johnny Alucard, and she said only that it's an anagram, and there was a brief conversation about how the undead love their anagrams, and I thought of the best show from 1990s TV, Dracula the series, with the cunningly disguised Alexander Lucard!

Welles is described as a "Flawed Genius", and that's how I was going to characterize this book. Almost in answer, at that point, it starts being incredible and never stops.

I knew I would love this book when "Barbie the Vampire Slayer" showed up. I tend not to speculate on the motivations of authors. I've written for characters whose viewpoints I didn't share, and I wouldn't assume that an writer believes everything he or she says while writing in the voice of a character.

However, Newman is so uncharitable towards Barbie, here an easily gulled serial killer who spouts corny one-liners and stake puns as she murders Moondoggy from Gidget, that I am left with the impression that he has a deep dislike for the character on whom she is modelled.

I thought Buffy was one of the best shows on TV in the beginning, and gradually deteriorated into a parody of itself, and the hardcore Whedonistas are so insufferable that it's nice to see someone taking the piss out of them.

Her "overlooker" ("Bloody silly name, means nothing, just sounds cool if you're a twit") is so much fun too, because he hate Barbie too. He gets all the best lines: On telling her "that she's "The Chosen One": "The lovely featherhead hangs on my every word. Teenage girls adore that kind of 'I'm a secret princess' twaddle."

While fans occasionally lampoon the sillier aspects of properties they love, this is just brutal.

We get more and more of Johnny Alucard, who comes out on the world stage at the "Concert for Transylvania" as Dracula reborn. He's a wonderful villain.

There are also some Bonnie and Clyde/Natural Born Killer characters who play a larger part than I expected. Alucard meets them when returning his videos to a store they're robbing. (Quentin Tarantino is the clerk there) That may have been my biggest problem with the book. Alucard is a drug dealer, a big time Hollywood producer and he doesn't have someone to run back his movies?

A lot of authors coast on a great concept and putter out by the time they get to a resolution. This book starts out weak and ends outstandingly. Geneviève consults with a conspiracy-minded Jewish detective in Baltimore. The problems I noted with the book are entirely gone by the time we reach the end, and it's taut and tense and really good. ("'Whatcha talkin bout Willis?" was also sly and pretty funny.)

I'll hide a couple spoilers beneath the button. I don't think this shows up in the RSS feed, so you'll need to click through the website to see them.



It's a great ending that promises more stories to come.

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