Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The Goldcamp Vampire

Elizabeth Scarborough's humorous historical novel THE GOLDCAMP VAMPIRE OR THE SANGUINARY SOURDOUGH (1987) is narrated by Valentine Lovelace (nee Pelagia Harper), a newspaper editor and writer of dime novels. After the death of her dissolute but well-liked father, her father's mistress, Sasha Devine, invites Valentine to accompany her as companion and general gofer on a trip to the Yukon gold fields, all expenses covered (but salary to be paid at some later date). To Valentine's surprise, the journey includes the coffin of a certain Mr. Lawson, whose grieving partner wants him transported to the Yukon. On the voyage north and in Dawson City, Valentine gets arrested for murder, fakes her own death, and poses as a Spanish dancer, among other predicaments. Along with other eccentric characters, she meets Sasha's "admirer" (owner of the saloon whose dance company Valentine joins), Vasily Vladovitch Bledinoff, a Romanian Count who emigrated to Russia and thence to the Yukon.

The humor springs from Valentine's cluelessness in contrast to the reader's full awareness of the significance of mosquito bites on the neck, aggressive bats, sensitivity to crucifixes, multiple disappearances on board the boat, and a mist flowing out of the nonexistent "Mr. Lawson's" casket. For most of the book, she attributes the fatigue, illnesses, and inexplicable deaths to a Deadly Miasma. Even when she realizes the "mosquito bites" on the dancing girls' necks are inflicted by Vasily, she thinks he's just a womanizer with perverted notions of seduction. She awakens to the truth only when someone brings a copy of a recent novel by that Irish writer, Bram Stoker, to the saloon and reads the first three chapters aloud. She also encounters werewolves, a were-moose, an old enemy from her past encounter with a dragon god in Texas (in a prior novel I haven't read), a young aspiring writer named Jack London, and her father's ghost. Vasily turns out to be not so much evil as cheerfully amoral, but even after discovering that his bite induces sensual pleasure, euphoria, and addiction, Valentine has no desire to become a vampire.

The witty first-person narrative and fast-paced adventure keep the reader from getting emotionally involved with the characters who fall into deadly peril at the claws and fangs of monsters. There are moments of horror and suspense, but we can't seriously fear for Valentine when she has obviously survived to tell the tale. This fun, lightly scary romp concludes with a "Biographer's Note" summarizing the heroine's later life as a writer, world traveler, and adventurer. If you like humorous takes on traditional horror tropes, pick up THE GOLDCAMP VAMPIRE.

Margaret L. Carter

Explore love among the monsters at Carter's Crypt.

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