Friday, December 21, 2007

Lost Books, Part V: a ripper of a vampire novel

If you ever see a Kim Newman book for sale, buy it - before it softly and suddenly vanishes away.

Newman may well be the living lord of the literary landscape of lost books. Perhaps in some parallel universe, his books stay in print for as long as they deserve, but I had a difficult time choosing which undeservedly out-of-print Newman novel to enthuse about. I considered Back in the USSA (co-written with Eugene Byrne), which only appeared in hardcover (though in the aforementioned parallel universe, it was probably a bestselling paperback in the USSA… sorry about that). And The Quorum, which is not only a writers’ nightmare comparable to Stephen King’s Misery, but probably the scariest novel ever based on a Shakespearean comedy. In the end, I opted for the first in his amazing Anno Dracula series.

Anno Dracula is a parallel world story which combines Victorian-era fictional and historical characters, somewhat a la George Macdonald Fraser’s Flashman saga or Alan Moore’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen… but rather more so. The basic premise is that, Lord Godalming fails to destroy the boxes of Transylvanian soil that Dracula retreats to, enabling the count to remain in London, marry the widowed Queen Victoria, and turn her.

Vampirism becomes fashionable in England as Dracula places his distant undead relatives in positions of power. Lord Ruthven becomes Prime Minister, Varney the Vampire governs British India, the nosferatu Graf Orlok is appointed as warden of the Tower of London. Others allow themselves to be bitten so they can claim to belong to the Dracula bloodline, from the aristocratic Godalming down to streetwalkers such as Catherine Eddowes and Lulu Schon. Those who resist are either consigned to concentration camps such as Devil’s Dike, or executed by impaling. Sherlock Holmes and Bram Stoker have disappeared, while Van Helsing’s skull rests on a pike outside the palace. Quincy Morris has been killed by Dracula (his last words a quote from The Wild Bunch); Jack Seward survives, but has been driven mad; when not working in a Spitalfields refuge with Montague Druitt and vampire Genevieve Dieudonne, he prowls Whitechapel disemboweling vampire prostitutes with a silvered scalpel.

Among those investigating the murders are Inspector Lestrade, Inspector Abberline, and an agent of the Diogenes Club, Charles Beauregard. Doctors Jekyll and Moreau theorize about the killer's nature, while London’s crimelords also attempt to catch the man who has brought so much police attention to Whitechapel. Things become even more heated – and complicated – after a news agency receives a letter signed “Jack the Ripper”.

The cast of characters also includes the Elephant Man, Mina Harker, Dr Griffin, Raffles, Oscar Wilde, Danny Dravot, Count Iorga, Algernon Swinburne, and enough Ripper suspects (Druitt, David Cohen, John Netley) and possible or fictitious victims to delight any Ripperologist. Even if you're not a lover of fantastic Victoriana, read it once for the plot and don’t worry if you think you’ve missed any of the references: you’ll enjoy reading it again. (Assuming, of course, that you can find a copy in the first place.)

Anno Dracula would be an excellent thriller even without the mélange of literary, historical and horror movie in-jokes: with its twisted conspiratorial plot, cinematic fight scenes, gore, transformations, gaslit setting, goth (sorry, Murgatroyd) fashions, and other delights, it would make a wonderful movie – unless, of course, it was made by the people responsible for LXG.


Peggy Hailey said...

Amen, brother! With the current vampire/paranormal frenzy, you'd think this would be a natural to bring back.

Blue Tyson said...

Yeah, this is a great book.

Stu Shiffman said...

A terrific book and series. The Wold Newton folks over at have a list of references in Newman's Anno Dracula series.

Jayme Lynn Blaschke said...

Whenever I get into book discussions at conventions, particularly out-of-print discussions, this title invariably comes up. And it's advocates are passionate. Alas, I've yet to come across a copy...