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.