“It is 1888 and Queen Victoria has remarried, taking as her new consort Vlad Tepes, the Wallachian Prince infamously known as Count Dracula. Peppered with familiar characters from Victorian history and fiction, the novel tells the story of vampire Geneviève Dieudonné and Charles Beauregard of the Diogenes Club as they strive to solve the mystery of the Ripper murders.”
So reads the blurb for “Anno Dracula” by Kim Newman, a novel just released by Titan Press. Or, more accurately, re-printed. You see, this novel first came out in 1992 (the same year as Francis Ford Coppola’s cinematic take on the world’s most famous vampire). It inspired two sequels, “The Bloody Red Baron” (about the first world war) and “Judgment of Tears” aka “Dracula Cha-Cha-Cha” set in post World War II Rome. The whole thing began with a novella titled “Red Reign” and has as its starting point a simple question:
What if Dracula had won?
From the first we find ourselves not quite in the London of our world and history. Rather here we visit a place where Inspector Lestrade works for Scotland Yard and tries to deal with professional criminals like Bill Sikes. A physician called to examine the body of a murdered prostitute identifies himself as Dr. Henry Jeckyll, the victim Lulu from the silent film “Pandora’s Box.” More, in this world Queen Victoria has married a Transylvanian nobleman, openly known to be a centuries-old vampire. Lord Ruthven has been made Prime Minister. Characters from Hammer horror films wander about in upper class society. A bizarre hopping undead haunts Chinatown. Sir Francis Varney is now Viceroy of India.
And Jack the Ripper is using a silver knife to murder undead whores in Whitechapel. Amid the ebb and swirl, the life and death of Victoria’s new London, fear spreads like a plague to both the turned and the breathing. Fear of the unknown serial killer, of the vampires increasingly in control, fear of death and loss of social position, fear of change or of things continuing as they are. At its heart the novel tells of Charles Beauregard, the blend as it were of James Bond and Lord Peter Whimsey, but seemingly out of his depth as he’s given the task of solving these terrible murders.
Honestly, Charles wouldn’t be nearly as interesting if not for the setting. He himself is a good man, a troubled one and his story does capture the imagination. But the mise-en-scene all-but-eclipses these. Fortunately, the two integrate quite well, not least in the person of Genevieve, a dainty lass even older than Dracula, given to melancholy yet proof in and of herself that to be a vampire is not to be a monster. She spends her nights helping the poor and the sick, and when asked to help find a slaughterer of the innocent, does not really hesitate. Newman’s prose lacks high drama or splendid poetic passages. He delivers a good story, though, one aided by the many subtle skill of a professional writer. Excitement, mystery, a tangled love story, all on stage crowded with more vampires than True Blood and The Vampire Diaries combined! Part of the fun of the book remains spotting all the many little references laced throughout. Graf Orlock and Dr. Moreau seem pretty obvious, but who recognizes Dr. Ravna? What about Daniel Dravot? Sarah Kenyon? General Zaroff? Henry Wilcox?
After nearly two decades the entire series is headed for reprinting, with a fourth book on the way as well! Given the blend of romance, mystery, intrigue and almost swashbuckling adventure one must wonder if perhaps Hollywood might see the possibilities? No small feat is the fact that although we know the Ripper’s identity from the first chapter, the story remains compelling and its conclusion a surprise, as well as “open” (as evidenced by the sequels). Fans of literary vampires especially should treat themselves to this very readable and enjoyable flight of imagination.