Monday, August 15, 2016

The House of Dracula

The late British author R. Chetwynd-Hayes is noted for his fiction about vampires, werewolves, and other supernatural creatures, horror seasoned with dashes of dry humor that lend an ironic distance to the horrific events. Very prolific, he produced dozens of novels and short-story collections. His THE MONSTER CLUB (1975) was made into a movie starring Vincent Price and John Carradine. He takes an eccentric approach to the traditional motifs within his unique mythos. THE HOUSE OF DRACULA (1987) provides a delightfully ghoulish glimpse into his world and helpfully includes a "Draculain Genealogical Table" listing the children of Count Dracula (slain in 1896, as per Stoker's novel) by his three vampire wives and laying out the way inheritance of supernatural traits works in Chetwynd-Hayes's fiction.

His vampires can transform people into vampires (rarely) but appear to comprise a separate species in themselves. They can reproduce with ordinary humans ("Humes"), and each type of crossbreed has a different name, depending on the number of generations distant from the pure-blooded ancestor and the amount of vampire DNA in the mix -- in descending order, Vamlings, Mocks, Shadmocks, Maddies, Shaddies, Mongrels, and the lowest, Madvams ("the pack"), who resemble humanoid dogs. Each hybrid subspecies has its own paranormal power that makes it a terrifying threat to hapless humans who stumble into the preternatural realm.

THE HOUSE OF DRACULA ties into his other fiction but easily stands on its own. The stories contained in this book are framed as a compilation of unearthed documents about some of the descendants of Dracula (a follow-up to the author's 1986 collection, DRACULA'S CHILDREN). The contents: "Caroline": An eight-year-old boy, Simon, child of a merry widow who practically ignores him, meets a "night mummy" who comes from the half-ruined mansion next door and lures him into a nocturnal world where his latent powers unfold. Even before Simon meets the vampire Lady Caroline, he instinctively knows how to kill by "looking dead" at a barking dog. From Lady Caroline he learns his true origin and destiny. The first half of this story is told in the third person from various viewpoints. The second half is narrated in first person by George, the weak, somewhat dimwitted, but loyal suitor of Simon's mother; he comes across as a P. G. Wodehouse character trapped in a Hammer film. "Marikova": The humdrum, self-indulgent life of Derek Wallis, a reclusive, forty-year-old bachelor, is turned upside down when a beautiful woman in distress turns up at his door. He falls in love with Marikova despite her eccentricities. A vampire in flight from witch-hunters centuries in the past, she "time-jumped" and ended up in his neighborhood. When representatives of her father, a powerful vampire lord, come to "rescue" her, they insist Derek must die to prevent his exposing their kind's existence. Marikova persuades them to allow Derek the traditional twenty-four-hour head start before sending the pack to "absorb" him. "Karl": In the form of a tape-recorded diary, this tale narrates wheelchair-bound young woman Veronica's affair with Karl, who promises to make her walk again if she yields herself to him. Driven by hatred of all men (a vengeful reaction to an earlier disastrous relationship), she helps vampire-hunters capture Karl, only to have second thoughts. "Gilbert": William Wildeforce, a retired soldier, finds a comatose teenage boy in a secret room of the cellar below his house. When Wildeforce awakens the boy, Gilbert gives an account of his background and age that sounds like an outrageous lie or a delusion. When the evidence of Gilbert's true nature becomes impossible to deny, Wildeforce struggles with the choice of whether to continue sheltering the "boy" or betray him to a bounty hunter. "Louis": This final piece, in epistolary format as an exchange of letters between Hilda, on holiday at a seaside resort, and Liza, her friend back home, has little or no humor to lighten its quietly horrific events. When Hilda becomes enthralled by Louis, the titular vampire, his power gradually draws her ever further from the mundane world into an alternate realm where no one can reach her.

An omnibus volume called THE VAMPIRE STORIES OF R. CHETWYND-HAYES, published in 1997, is available at a very reasonable price in trade paperback.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Friday, July 15, 2016

Prince of Dreams

Nicholas Gale, the nonhuman hero of Susan Krinard's PRINCE OF DREAMS (1995), is a member of a different species and a psychic vampire, feeding on the energy of dreams. His extrasensory power makes possible a deeply erotic intimacy with the heroine, psychologist Diana Ransom. Fearful of draining her energy to a harmful or fatal degree, he carefully ensures that the dream embraces they share have only a positive effect on her. In addition to the care he takes with his donors, only "skimming" their life-force and granting them consolation or pleasure in dreams, he's a philanthropist, a patron of the arts. This novel offers an early example of the now-familiar trope of a pair of vampire brothers, one good and one evil. Nicholas and his brother, Adrian, are the last of their kind. A totally destructive energy-vampire, Adrian disdains Nicholas's scruples about repaying human donors with comfort and peace. Because Adrian has no compunctions about draining his victims to death, his lifestyle, as with many similarly ruthless vampires in fiction, gives him an advantage in power over Nicholas.

In the prologue, set in 1891, Nicholas clashes with Adrian over Sarah, a woman he cared for, whom Adrian destroyed by completely draining her through sex (the reason why Nicholas confines his intimacy with his donors to their dreams). Nicholas chains and imprisons his brother in a cave in California. In the present day, Diana has recurring nightmares about the death of her sister, Clare, involving a sinister, vampire-like figure. Keely, her young cousin, an artist, disappears. In searching for her, Diana becomes acquainted with Nicholas, Keely's anonymous patron. Eventually, Nicholas discovers that Adrian has escaped. The "evil"—or at least deeply flawed—brother preyed on Clare and Keely and pursues Diana because they're descendants of Sarah. The remote possibility that Sarah's bloodline might hold a chance of mortality for their kind appeals to Nicholas and enrages Adrian. Nicholas is a rare example of an other-species vampire who wants to become human. Together, Diana and Nicholas become so powerful they can enter a dream world together and even pull an unwilling Adrian in with them.

Coincidentally, PRINCE OF DREAMS came out around the same time as Jasmine Cresswell's PRINCE OF THE NIGHT (1995) and Christine Feehan's DARK PRINCE (1999), all three titles framing vampires as aristocrats. Because the male belongs to a superior species (emphasized by the word "Prince"), the pairing conforms to the traditional relationship model of many older romances—dominant, protective male and protected, rescued female. In each case, the balance of power is restored because the vampire needs his human beloved for more than nourishment. In Diana, Krinard's Nicholas finds love, an end to loneliness, and deliverance from the pain of being the last of his race. She also delivers Nicholas from the guilt he suffers because of his need to drain energy from unsuspecting mortals. He fears his kind have become almost extinct because they "were never meant to live on this earth" and were an "affront against nature." Diana reassures him that his people have repaid humanity by using dreams to inspire "great artists and thinkers" through the ages.

By the way, few prospective readers would recognize this novel as a vampire romance from a glance at the original cover (shown above), with a half-naked man on horseback in the moonlight, even though this illustration does reflect the setting of the prologue.

Margaret L. Carter

Explore love among the monsters at Carter's Crypt.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Hipira

If you're seeking a picture book for Goth-minded, vampire-loving kids, try HIPIRA (2002 in Japan; English edition 2005). The story begins, "My name is Hipira. The truth is, I'm a vampire! Everybody had better be really afraid of me!" As you might expect from a character in a children's book, however, he turns out to be more friendly than frightening.

Hipira lives in Salta, a town inhabited solely by vampires, where it's always night. As he mentions, it's a great place for kids who love to stay up late. The book includes scary images that could develop into "nightmare fuel" if given free rein, but humor dilutes any traces of fear, and there's always a happy ending (in a sort of Addams-family-ish sense). HIPIRA comprises several short stories. In "The Tale of Soul," Hipira sneaks into the castle of the mysterious Town Elder, a vampire wizard constructing a "vortex of spirits" out of captured human souls. (Hence the potential for nightmare fuel, but the text quickly glosses over this concept.) The Elder's project of conjuring sprites from the vortex yields one small creature, who calls himself Soul and becomes Hipira's best friend. In "Cock-A-Doodle-Doo!" Hipira scares his relatives and neighbors by imitating a rooster—a terrifying sound in a city where morning is never supposed to come. "The Frog Prince" involves dark, creepy woods, a dried-up river, and a giant toad. In "School Is Fun," Hipira learns about the illustrious ancestor of his people, Count Dracula, and Soul plays a prank. "A New Friend" frightens the citizens of Salta with a meteorite that damages the high wall around the town, letting in a sunbeam and allowing the vampire community to be overrun with sharp-toothed, goblin-like imps.

This book doesn't include any blood-drinking but focuses on the vampires' nocturnal lifestyle and other quirky nonhuman traits. The style of the art is both humorous and grotesque, yet the backgrounds have a strange beauty. In the color scheme, various shades of blue dominate, conveying an impression of perpetual twilight. Salta comes across as a Gothic landscape with an occasional touch of steampunk. Yet there's a bit of a fairy-tale atmosphere, too. HIPIRA blends these elements in a unique style you're not likely to find in a children's book written in North America.

Margaret L. Carter

Explore love among the monsters at Carter's Crypt.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Renfield, Slave of Dracula

Barbara Hambly, author of the historical vampire tale THOSE WHO HUNT THE NIGHT and several sequels, also wrote a stand-alone vampire novel, RENFIELD, SLAVE OF DRACULA (2006). As the title implies, it retells the events of DRACULA mainly from Renfield's viewpoint. It begins on a night, shortly after his commitment to the asylum, when he escapes and runs toward Carfax Abbey during a dinner party given by Dr. Seward for Lucy Westenra and her mother. The story is told partly through letters and journals, mainly Renfield's diary, and partly in third-person narrative passages largely focused on Renfield and Seward. As in Stoker's novel, Seward comes across as an intelligent, introspective man. He strives to apply modern, humane practices for treating patients, in opposition to the harsh methods advocated by his subordinates at the asylum. We also get fresh perspectives on other characters in DRACULA, such as Mina. But the major emphasis, of course, centers on Renfield's background, his deeply troubled mind, and Dracula's seduction of him. His mental bond with the vampire causes him to experience fragments of the other characters' lives in dreams, which allow the reader to glimpse events from the original novel outside Renfield's direct experience.

In Hambly's retelling, Renfield becomes a former merchant who spent many years in India, where exposure to exotic cultures and strange phenomena has left him open to the supernatural. While he lies helpless in the asylum, his mother-in-law and sister-in-law search for his wife and daughter, who have apparently gone into hiding. His fervent wish to reunite with his family drives his quest for power through the consumption of life-force. Soon enough, though, he realizes the danger of relying on the Count for help or protection. Further complications ensue, behind the scenes of Stoker's narrative. Hambly ingeniously weaves in these new plot elements in ways that never violate the "facts" as presented in the original, occasionally incorporating verbatim passages from DRACULA (conscientiously identified as such). The result is a thoughtful and highly polished variation on the familiar story, with a sympathetic, believable exploration of the title character. The author has plenty of room to work, since in the classic novel Renfield remains enigmatic. On film, although usually seen as pitiable, he has been portrayed as little more than the Count's minion, either a minor villain or comic relief.

For fans of Hambly's THOSE WHO HUNT THE NIGHT: She offers several short pieces in her various fictional universes, including her vampire series. "Sunrise on Running Water," a spinoff from those novels, takes place on board the Titanic:

Sunrise on Running Water

Margaret L. Carter

Explore love among the monsters at Carter's Crypt.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Tomorrow Sucks

The anthology TOMORROW SUCKS (1994), edited by Greg Cox and T. K. F. Weisskopf, showcases science-fiction vampire tales. Some are vintage stories familiar to devoted fans; most have more recent publication dates. Weisskopf concludes the book with a short essay, "An Anthropological Approach to Vampirism." Disclosure: This volume includes "Vanishing Breed, by my husband, Leslie Roy Carter (first published in my CURSE OF THE UNDEAD, 1970); it's the earliest story I'm aware of to propose that Earth's vampires originated on a different planet, and it inspired my vampires-as-other-species series. If you're curious, you can find the titles of novels and stories in this fictional universe here:

Vanishing Breed Vampire Universe

The rest of the contents: "Pillar of Fire," by Ray Bradbury; a twentieth-century man rises to undead life in the distant future. "And Not Quite Human," by Joe L. Hensley, another older story; an alien invasion force conquers Earth, and the action takes place on a starship carrying Terran "specimens" who turn out to be far from ordinary. "The Man Who Loved the Vampire Lady," by Brian Stableford; in an alternate-history seventeenth-century Europe, the world is ruled by vampires whose condition arises from an infectious disease, which the protagonist studies in an attempt to find a weapon against the vampire overlords. "Born Again," by S. N. Dyer; another story in which vampirism is caused by a microorganism. "Kaeti's Nights," by Keith Roberts; a father narrates what happens when his supposedly dead daughter comes home on regular visits and sets him straight about the truth versus the myths of vampirism; "Pyotr's Story," by Spider Robinson; a "Callahan's Bar" episode about friendly vampire Pyotr, a member of another species, who filters blood rather than literally drinking it and incidentally prevents his donors from developing hangovers after heavy imbibing. "Fleas," by Dean Ing; vampires defined as parasites and subject to predation by creatures still higher on the food chain. "Leechcraft," by Susan Petrey; members of Petrey's vampire species, the Varkela, roam the Russian steppes and trade their healing and horse-trading gifts for blood, and in this story, a Varkela man time-travels from the nineteenth century into the present and falls in love with a modern woman. "Shambleau," by C. L. Moore, the oldest item in the book; interplanetary adventurer Northwest Smith falls victim to a shapechanging predator in the seductive guise of an exotic alien girl, although her true form is a Medusa-like "writhing scarlet horror." "The Stainless Steel Leech," by Roger Zelazny; in the far future, a vampiric "werebot" becomes friends with the last surviving traditional vampire.

TOMORROW SUCKS has a companion volume featuring science-fiction werewolves, TOMORROW BITES (1995).

Margaret L. Carter

Explore love among the monsters at Carter's Crypt.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Live Girls

LIVE GIRLS (1987), by Ray Garton, is a far cry from the romantic "good guy vampire" fiction that began to flourish during the 1980s. After a grim prologue featuring the kind of character a reviewer for the Innsmouth Free Press website calls "Doomed Teaser Guy," we meet unfortunate New Yorker Davey Owen. His girlfriend has just left him after yet another argument about his low-level job at a small publishing company. Meanwhile, Walter Benedek, Doomed Teaser Guy's brother-in-law, drops in at his sister's home and finds a gory crime scene. The imagery of these opening scenes sets the tone for the book with tawdry, trash-strewn streets, gloomy weather, and the horrific slaughter of Walter's sister.

Wandering the city, mired in depression, Davey stumbles upon a sex club in Times Square called Live Girls (which we glimpsed in the prologue). There he has an encounter that leaves him drained in more ways than one, although he doesn't realize the true nature of the "smeared lipstick" he notices on the girl's mouth afterward. Any reader halfway attentive to the blurb and cover illustration, of course, knows the title of the novel (and the club) is ironic; the "live girls" are undead. After losing his job later that day, Davey returns to Live Girls for a second time, despite the blood he'd noticed in an intimate location after the first visit. Although he has no idea what's happening yet, the erotic addiction of a vampire's feeding is obvious to the reader. At the same time, Walter Benedek, determined to find out what became of his missing brother-in-law, starts watching Live Girls and notices Davey's repeated visits.

Irresistibly drawn to Live Girls, Davey becomes involved with Anya, the woman he first encountered there. Amid the raw, blood-tinged sex, the reader immediately recognizes what she's doing to him, something he takes a while to figure out. His compulsive desire for Anya battles with the scruples inculcated by his fanatically religious mother. Walter approaches him on the pretext of an interview for an article and notices Davey seems ill, afflicted the same way Walter's brother-in-law was. Davey's female friend Casey also becomes concerned about his health and gets involved. Together investigating Live Girls and its sister establishment, the Midnight Club, they realize actual, supernatural vampires lurk there.

LIVE GIRLS will appeal to hard-core horror fans. Especially frightful are the grotesque, yet pitiable creatures whose transformations have gone wrong. Although this isn't primarily a sympathetic vampire novel, neither does it fall under the "all vampires are evil, destroy on sight" trope of classic horror. The undead antagonists are balanced by two characters—Davey and Casey—being transformed into vampires against their will. The good guys triumph, sort of, but only at great cost.

Margaret L. Carter

Explore love among the monsters at Carter's Crypt.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Off the Beaten Orbit

OFF THE BEATEN ORBIT (1961; first published as GALAXY OF GHOULS, 1955), compiled by distinguished SF writer and editor Judith Merril, isn't a vampire anthology as such. But it does include three vintage vampire tales (two being a couple of my all-time favorites), plus two other stories with some vampire content. It also features two werewolf pieces. This anthology holds a special place in my heart. I first heard of it from my high school boyfriend, who described some of the contents to me but never got around to lending me the book. I'd given up on ever actually seeing the elusive paperback when I stumbled upon it in a used book shop, long before Internet searches existed. (There are several copies available on Amazon at present.)

One vampire story, "Share Alike," by Jerome Bixby and Joe E. Dean, delves into one of my favorite tropes, vampires as a naturally evolved species. It centers on a symbiotic relationship between a vampire and a human sailor, the only survivors of a shipwreck, adrift in a lifeboat. Ray Bradbury's classic "Homecoming" explores the plight of an ordinary mortal born into a family of fairly benign "monsters." (They get their blood supply from a funeral home where some of their members work.) I've always been fascinated by Bradbury's portrayal of the "monsters" as normal and their human son as a mutant (long before THE ADDAMS FAMILY and THE MUNSTERS). In "Blood," one of Fredric Brown's trademark short-shorts (what's called flash fiction nowadays), a vampire couple flees in a time machine to the distant future to seek an era when humanity will have forgotten about their kind, with a disastrous and funny outcome.

In Bruce Elliott's unique werewolf story "Wolves Don't Cry," a zoo wolf wakes up one morning as a man, a change he finds deeply disturbing. In "The Ambassadors," by Anthony Boucher, Mars turns out to be inhabited by intelligent wolves, and the werewolves of Earth become interplanetary mediators. There's a vampire allusion at the end of the story.

Some other outstanding pieces include "A Way of Thinking," by Theodore Sturgeon, featuring an odd variation on a voodoo doll; an early "John the Balladeer" tale by Manly Wade Wellman, "O Ugly Bird!"; and "Triflin' Man," by Walter M. Miller, whose backwoods heroine deals decisively with an alien (advance scout for an invasion) who left her with a half-human baby after a one-night stand. Creatures such as mermaids, demons, and doppelgangers also populate the anthology.

The book ends fittingly with "Mop-Up," by Arthur Porges, in which the last man on Earth after a nuclear holocaust encounters a vampire, a ghoul, and a witch.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Friday, January 15, 2016

The Vampire Encyclopedia

If you're looking for a wide-ranging, informal yet informative guide to vampires both folkloric and fictional, pick up Matthew Bunson's THE VAMPIRE ENCYCLOPEDIA (1993). (Many bargain-priced used copies of this trade paperback are available.)

Entries include authors, books and short story titles, historical figures, countries and cultures, many varieties of vampires, items harmful or lethal to the undead, animals associated with vampires, and a sprinkling of miscellaneous terms such as "Art," "Plague," "Red Hair," "Satan," etc. A reader can dip into this compendium on any page and be sure to find an entertaining bit of lore.

The lists scattered throughout the volume constitute my favorite feature: Methods of detecting vampires, protecting against them, destroying them, and preventing vampirism in the first place; how someone becomes a vampire; historical "vampire" serial killers; vampire-related plays, poetry, films, and prose literature. There's no table of contents, though, so the reader has to stumble on these resources by leafing through the book.

Bunson made some puzzling choices. For instance, there's no apparent pattern in how he decided which fictional works get separate entries from their authors' names and which don't. For instance, THE VAMPIRE TAPESTRY, by Suzy McKee Charnas, rates entries for not only author and title but the protagonist, Dr. Weyland, as well. As much as I love Charnas's modern classic, it's strange to see it treated this way when several more high-profile books aren't. Many different countries and ethnic groups are referenced, but some with essays several paragraphs long and others merely with cross-references to related terms. And at some points Bunson's alphabetizing is downright bizarre. "La Llorona" appears under "La," yet the novel LA BAS is listed as "Bas, La," as if he mistook the adverb for an article. Still, these quirks don't significantly interfere with the enjoyment and utility of the book.

THE VAMPIRE ENCYCLOPEDIA includes an eleven-page bibliography divided into short stories, novels, and nonfiction references. The list of vampire organizations at the end, of course, has mainly historical appeal, although the venerable "Vampires Are Us" (aka the Count Dracula Fan Club) still operates at the same address.

In contrast, J. Gordon Melton's THE VAMPIRE BOOK: THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE UNDEAD, now in its third edition, is a weightier tome with longer, more detailed, updated entries and a more extensive bibliography. Both of these guidebooks are useful and entertaining, and since their subject matter doesn't completely overlap, they would complement each other as additions to a vampire enthusiast's library.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Sacrament

If you haven't read any of Susan Squires' "Companion" series, try the first book, SACRAMENT (2002). You can find a complete list of the Companion novels and novellas here:

Susan Squires Companion Index

This novel combines Regency fiction with Gothic horror, two genres that can be blended effectively, as illustrated by Jane Austen's NORTHANGER ABBEY. Like a typical Regency romance, SACRAMENT features a plucky heroine in trouble, an egoistic rival beauty, an arrogant but magnetic hero, and the select society of the ton. On the Gothic side, it includes vampirism, archaeology, forbidden medical experimentation, imprisonment, torture, sinister monks, and ancient secrets. The action ranges over a wide variety of settings, such as London, Bath, Vienna, and the exotic remoteness of the Carpathian Mountains. Sarah, alone in the world aside from a would-be fiance for whom she has only lukewarm feelings, faces the risk of losing her family estate to enigmatic aristocrat Julien Davinoff. Her desperate attempt to save her inheritance leads to unexpected revelations about why Davinoff wants her land; a vampire of extraordinary age, he uses the tunnels beneath the ruins on Sarah's estate as a cache for the priceless souvenirs of his very long life. Sarah learns the truth about Davinoff when she becomes entangled in her alleged friend Corina's campaign to win his love. When Corina's seduction fails, she imprisons him in her cellar and forcibly addicts him to laudanum. Sarah rescues him, although she suspects him of perpetrating a series of vampiric murders. She uses her up-to-date knowledge of medicine (gleaned from her physician suitor) to break the addiction and uncovers his secret. Realistically, she gets her image of vampires from Dr. John Polidori's scandalous tale, "The Vampyre." She feeds Davinoff her blood to save his life anyway, and he reveals to her the true, non-supernatural origin of his vampirism. His yearning to make her his eternal mate by transforming her yields to his nobler impulses, and he flees from the temptation. Sequestered in a secret vampire monastery in the Carpathians, he takes the Vow that will separate him forever from human society. Sarah pursues him into the wilds of Eastern Europe, where she fights for her love in a confrontation with the eldest of all vampires.

SACRAMENT offers an unusual variation on vampirism as an infection. The Companion is a symbiotic organism inhabiting a well on the grounds of the monastery. A parasite that lives on red blood cells, it bestows long life, regeneration, and rapid healing on its host. The host can also exercise certain extraordinary powers—e.g. mental influence, limited teleportation—by focusing the energy provided by the Companion. A vampire needs to ingest blood to nourish the Companion and becomes sensitive to (but not destroyed by) sunlight. A prospective vampire can be transformed by drinking the blood of an existing one—or by drinking the infected water from the well, but then he or she must have vampire blood in order to change rather than die. Squires convincingly frames this information in terms plausible for the characters' understanding in the context of nineteenth-century science. The reader can sympathize with Davinoff's conflict between his love for Sarah and his loyalty to the rigid laws that, he believes, provide the only ethical way of life for his kind. Sarah is a strong heroine who grows in self-knowledge and self-confidence throughout the story, until she attains the capacity to ignore the strictures of her society when they stand in the way of winning love. Davinoff does have an annoying tendency to fall into the "eternally cursed" mindset of the all-too-typical brooding vampires of many romances, but he gets over it. SACRAMENT and the other works in this series offer fans a fresh angle on the familiar tropes of the genre.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Secret of the Pale Lover

Before I first read SECRET OF THE PALE LOVER (1969) by Clarissa Ross, a friend described it to me as a book in which the heroine marries a vampire without realizing it—a fairly accurate summary. This is a fun read for anyone who enjoyed the Gothic romances of the sixties. Like just about every one of those paperbacks, SECRET OF THE PALE LOVER has a cover illustration of a terrified young woman running by night from a scary old house—in this case, a castle in France, labeled in the tagline "a satanic chateau."

Eve Lewis, a student of the occult and witchcraft legends visiting Paris, meets Count Henri Langlais, a charismatic aristocrat with "hypnotic eyes." He tells her about his nephew Leonard, who suffers from a mysterious chronic affliction of the blood. Count Henri attributes the hereditary "weakness" to an ancestral curse. It turns out that the Count and his nephew frequent the same seaside resort Eve plans to visit next. A male friend who would like to become more than that persistently warns her against the trusting the Count. Nightmares begin to plague her, including dreams of the Count presiding at a Black Mass. Her research uncovers legends of witchcraft and vampirism in the town of Langlais. Still, after spending time with the Count and his nephew at the resort, Eve becomes attracted to Leonard. It's obvious that the Count is matchmaking between the two young people. When Leonard and his uncle vanish with no notice or farewell, she's deeply hurt, until she receives a letter inviting her for an extended visit at their chateau. With the letter comes a cameo pendant; a spider hidden in it bites her. She buys a remedy at a strange little shop that, when she tries to find it again, has allegedly been abandoned for years. In short, she endures a sequence of sinister events foreshadowing horrors that may or may not lurk at the chateau. Once at the Langlais estate, she encounters the kinds of eerie phenomena one expects to find in a Gothic novel. Her suspicion that the Count belongs to a satanist cult proves correct. As is typical of such novels, she wrestles with ambivalent feelings toward her charming but enigmatic would-be suitor.

When Eve learns that the young man she originally began to care for at the resort was not Leonard, but an actor hired by the Count to impersonate his sickly nephew and draw her into a romantic attachment, she's plunged into the conflict that builds to the novel's climax. She and the actor, David, fall in love and confront the Count, who confesses the truth about Leonard. Count Henri seems remorseful over the deception and acts with incredible generosity toward the couple. As Eve gets swept along in his plans, it's obvious to the reader that she's being gaslighted (with, it's hinted, the aid of drugs). This novel isn't precisely a vampire romance, even though the heroine succumbs to a vampire's allure for a while, and whether it has a happy ending depends on one's point of view. Ambiguity (for the heroine if not the reader) and creeping fear haunt the story to the final page.

Margaret L. Carter

Explore love among the monsters at Carter's Crypt.