Very scary, boys and girls: the “prequel” to the classic 19th-century novel Dracula, with lots of gore thrown in to satisfy 21st-century tastes.
Stoker (Dracula: The Undead, 2009) has the name, Barker (The Fifth to Die, 2018, etc.) has the chops, and both work from an intriguing notion: When Bram Stoker shaped his novel—originally billed as a work of nonfiction—for publication, the first 102 pages were taken out by the publisher. What if they contained crucial details concerning origins, setting up future conflicts while clearing up mysteries? This foundational novel makes Bram a central character in his own story, which “finds its roots in truth.” What’s more, Bram is haunted by memory: A sickly child, he was bedridden, tended to by a woman named Ellen Crone, who here joins the ranks of the undead but, for all that, has some redeeming qualities, even if people tend to die and go missing whenever she’s around. In healthier adulthood, Bram and his siblings go off in search of Ellen, who’s disappeared—only to be spotted, years later, not having aged a bit. (Incidentally, Ellen and her fellow vamps can walk in sunlight; it just enervates them.) Well, strange doings are afoot, and those strange doings involve a preternaturally sinister chappy of grim countenance and sharp fang. Stoker and Barker positively exult in Dracul’s ability to control all manner of underground critters, including tower-climbing snakes and other creepy-crawlies, and their gross-out stuff can’t be beat: “The shroud felt moist, as if it were covered with some kind of bile or slime; it was akin to reaching into the carcass of some dead thing and taking hold of the stomach." It’s a lively if unlovely story, in which the once febrile Bram becomes a sort of Indiana Jones and other heroes emerge in the endless fight against the damned—some of whom, of course, remain undead for further adventures.
A big book that will no doubt be a hit among monster-movie and horror lit fans—and for good reason.