An inventive, delectable take on Stoker’s classic.

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The Carpathian Assignment


In Wagar’s (An American in Vienna, 2011) historical horror novel, detectives in 1896 Transylvania suspect that the enigmatic Count Dracula is responsible for numerous disappearances in the area.

When newly assigned Chief of Police Kálváry Istvan arrives in Transylvania’s Bistritz district, he’s initially unaware of the unusually high number of unexplained missing persons, which includes his predecessor. Bistritz also has its share of unsolved murders, so Istvan and Inspector Gábor Kasza believe a serial murderer is at large. It isn’t long before the investigation centers on Count Dracula, who locals think is a vampire. The Roma who live in the woods on Dracula’s estate in exchange for work—including hauling mysterious boxes filled with dirt—are apparently too scared to talk about the count. Meanwhile, Dracula is shipping an abundance of crates overseas. Finally, frustrated police decide to raid his nearby castle. Wagar’s story, framed as an account from Istvan’s grandson, Stefan Dietrich, in 1924, suggests that Bram Stoker’s definitive 1897 novel Dracula is a fact-based narrative. Although Stefan claims his story is “unabridged,” it mostly relates Stoker’s well-known tale from alternate perspectives. It shows events that take place prior to Jonathan Harker’s arrival in Transylvania, shows young Roma Natália’s point of view while Harker’s at the castle, and updates Bistritz police on Dracula’s time in England via Harker’s telegrams. Many readers, however, will be jarred by Harker’s own story, which is significantly different from the well-known version. The eclectic cast of characters encompasses other figures from Stoker’s original, such as Abraham Van Helsing and Mina Harker, as well as real-life historical figures such as famed psychiatrists Sigmund Freud and Richard von Krafft-Ebing; the latter actively aids the investigation. Wagar fortunately doesn’t rely solely on his primary source of inspiration. He also delivers a few truly shocking sequences, such as when Natália’s overly curious father and uncle, Béla and Nikola, peek inside one of the heavily guarded boxes in transport. There are also some alluringly elegiac passages: “The sky went pink, then purple and then twilight until the sun sank behind the mountains.” Because no vampire story is complete without a romance, Wagar provides a new one: Widower Istvan, who lost his wife two years ago, has his passion reignited by the Baroness Ribanszky Julianna, whose daughter is one of the disappeared.

An inventive, delectable take on Stoker’s classic.

Pub Date: May 28, 2014

ISBN: 978-1495498909

Page Count: 324

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Aug. 12, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...


Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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