Friday, March 15, 2019

Seance for a Vampire

SEANCE FOR A VAMPIRE (1994), by Fred Saberhagen, is one of the later novels in his Dracula series. In my opinion, the later books tend to be weaker than the earlier installments, but SEANCE FOR A VAMPIRE ranks fairly high. It's a sequel to the second book in the series, THE HOLMES-DRACULA FILE (1978), one of the strongest, in which we learn that Vlad Dracula and Sherlock Holmes are "related" in a peculiar supernatural sense. Like that novel, SEANCE FOR A VAMPIRE is narrated alternately by Dracula and Dr. Watson. It begins with a flashback, reconstructed by Dracula, about an eighteenth-century hanging. The hanged Russian pirate, Kulakov, rises as a vampire, obsessed with regaining his stolen treasure.

In the present, Holmes and Watson receive an appeal for help from Ambrose Altamont, whose daughter Louisa recently drowned. His wife has employed a brother-sister team of mediums, Abraham and Sarah Kirkaldy, who she is convinced can summon Louisa's spirit. Altamont wants Sherlock Holmes to expose the Kirkaldys as charlatans. Louisa was engaged to Martin Armstrong, an American journalist, a member of the boating party when Louisa supposedly drowned. Her body was not found, and Armstrong reveals several peculiar features of the accident. The Kiraldys have already produced an apparent materialization of Louisa, solidifying Mrs. Altamont's faith in the mediums' powers. Strangely, the "spirit" of Louisa insists that only the restoration of a lost "treasure" can bring her peace. Her parents, of course, have no idea what she's referring to.

Quickly surmising that Louisa may be a vampire, Holmes and Watson join forces with Dracula to investigate the mystery. The Count soon discovers that the Kiraldys are as baffled by the apparition as the Altamonts and Armstrong are. A Russian vampire—whom the alert reader will identify as the hanged man from the opening scene—appears to be manipulating the undead girl. Furthermore, another shadowy Russian figure lurks in the background. Meanwhile, Dracula has an erotic fling with Sarah, discreetly offstage.

This fast-paced, highly entertaining story takes its characters from England to Russia in search of the ultimate truth behind Louisa's murder and resurrection. The historical settings of both Edwardian England and early 20th-century Russia strike me as vivid and convincing. When we learn the identity of the undead pirate's Russian ally, this revelation seems inevitable, given the era and locale. Like its predecessor, THE HOLMES-DRACULA FILE, SEANCE FOR A VAMPIRE works well as both a Sherlock Holmes pastiche and a vampire novel. One minor problem: After the early chapters, many passages aren't marked with the names of the narrators, so we have to infer for ourselves whether the Count or the doctor is speaking; sometimes the answer isn't immediately clear. Otherwise, highly recommended.

Margaret L. Carter

Please explore love among the vampires at Carter's Crypt.

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