Thursday, July 14, 2022

Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis

PRINCE LESTAT AND THE REALMS OF ATLANTIS (2016), a follow-up to PRINCE LESTAT (2014), doesn't quite fit my criterion of "over ten years old" for these retro reviews. Many fans of Anne Rice's vampire series, though, may not have caught up with the latest installments, so I figured you might like to read about this rather strange addition to Rice's mythos. It unveils astounding revelations about the origin and true nature of Amel, the spirit who created the first vampire by possessing Queen Akasha 6000 years ago. In the previous novel, Lestat became host to Amel, the “Core” that animates all vampires (or, using the term most of them prefer, Blood Drinkers) and links them together in a universal network. Amel sometimes takes up temporary residence in different vampires’ minds, but mainly he stays with Lestat. In his role as “Prince,” Lestat exercises loose authority over the rest of his kind and also bears the burden of knowing that any harm to him will hurt other vampires worse, especially young, fragile fledglings.

This story reveals the source of vampirism in Atlantis and. . . aliens. A renegade vampire has been imprisoning and torturing a strange immortal who turns out to be an extraterrestrial. He and his companions were created and sent to Earth many millennia in the past to correct what their “Parents” view as evolution’s error in making a species of mammal our planet’s dominant intelligence. The alien visitors fell in love with Earth and abandoned their mission. Their backstory and their connection with Amel, followed by the risky project of freeing all vampires from dependence on the immortal spirit, form the heart of the book.

The narrative is told from several viewpoints, two of them in first person, Lestat’s and that of the female alien who unfolds the history of herself, her companions, and Atlantis. One weakness of the novel, in my opinion, is that all the narrative voices sound pretty much alike, i.e., like Lestat. Since I find him more irritating than alluring, that’s a negative for me. On the positive side, PRINCE LESTAT AND THE REALMS OF ATLANTIS (why “Realms,” plural, by the way?) includes a glossary of special terms used by the Blood Drinkers, an annotated cast list of the characters in the books, and titles and brief summaries of all the installments in the series up to that point. With this work, Rice produced an ingenious, ambitious expansion of her vampires’ origin myth, well worth reading even if, like me, you find Lestat as a character (in the later books, at least) practically insufferable.

Margaret L. Carter

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

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

The Traveling Vampire Show

Richard Laymon, author of THE TRAVELING VAMPIRE SHOW (limited edition 2000, mass-market paperback 2001), prolific creator of many horror novels and short stories over his two-decade career, published at least one other vampire novel, BITE (1996). THE TRAVELING VAMPIRE SHOW received a posthumous Bram Stoker Award in 2001.

On the outskirts of a small town in the summer of 1963, the Traveling Vampire Show prepares for a midnight performance featuring Valeria, "the only living vampire in captivity." First-person narrator Dwight and his two best friends, Rusty and Slim (a girl who changes her nickname in accordance with her favorite reading material of the moment), all sixteen years old, can't resist the allure of the show's advertisements, even though the venue is an ill-omened plot of land where multiple corpses of murder victims were unearthed, and nobody under eighteen is supposed be allowed anyway. Things begin to go wrong from the moment they arrive at Janks Field, the afternoon before the performance, in hopes of catching a glimpse of Valeria. A vicious dog traps them on top of a shed, and in the process of trying to escape, they become separated. The rest of the day unfolds with practically nonstop suspense, yet still allowing room for atmosphere, character development, and the deepening relationship between Dwight and Slim. Are members of the Traveling Vampire Show following and threatening the three teenagers? Are those strangers dangerous or merely creepy? What, if anything, do they have to do with the sinister Cadillac Twins, two men by whom Slim was almost abducted a month earlier? Most important, is Valeria a "real" vampire? The heroes' better judgment tells them otherwise, but they can't suppress a twinge of fear that vampires may really exist.

With the help of Dwight's sister-in-law, Lee, they gain admission to the performance. From that point, events rush toward a breathtaking climax. Through the eyes of sixteen-year-old Dwight, we do not learn the truth about Valeria until almost the end. In fact, we don't even get a glimpse of her until well past the 300-page mark in the 391-page paperback. The author shows admirable skill in maintaining narrative tension throughout while keeping the "monster" offstage that long. In a denouement no reader is likely to anticipate, the heroes uncover the secret of the Traveling Vampire Show. Slim, facing the villains with her bow and arrow, and Dwight, prepared to risk his life for his equally brave sister-in-law, prove to be true heroes. Their brash, mostly unlikable friend Rusty doesn't merit that label, but he, too, is a vivid and memorable character. The 1963 small-town setting lends a special dimension to the story. For Boomers, the imaginary return to the summer before Kennedy's assassination will provide a pleasurable exercise in nostalgia (at least, it did for me). Dwight tells the story from the perspective of an adult looking back at his youth, although for most of the book his adult persona is submerged in his vivid memories of the horrific past events. For younger readers, this book reveals a vanished world of rotary telephones and only three channels on TV, when suburban households didn't lock their doors in the daytime, when teenagers had easy access to weapons but wouldn't dare be caught upstairs in the home of a friend of the opposite sex. In a small way, though, Dwight and his friends do not ring completely true for me in at least one respect. As a teenage girl in the year of this story, I had never even seen in print a couple of the words that drop casually from these kids' lips when no adults are present, much less heard them spoken aloud. (I can believe Dwight and Rusty might use the F-word and other obscenities between themselves, but not in front of Slim.)

While actually reading the book, however, I noticed this factor only as a minor niggle in the back of my mind. THE TRAVELING VAMPIRE SHOW is a sometimes heartbreaking coming-of-age tale about characters who spring to life from the first page. The comparison in a cover quote on the paperback to Ray Bradbury's SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES, a classic adventure-fantasy of two boys menaced by a sinister carnival in a small town, has some justification. A closer analogy, however, would be with Stephen King's IT. Laymon's novel, featuring the shadow of past tragedies (the serial killer's victims in Janks Field), explicit language, occasional scenes of graphic violence, and adolescent male preoccupation with the mysteries of sex brings to mind King more than Bradbury.

Margaret L. Carter

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

Saturday, May 14, 2022

Detective Brand's Greatest Case

THE VAMPIRE; OR, DETECTIVE BRAND'S GREATEST CASE (1885), a 19th-century "dime novel," was recently revived as a trade paperback edited by Gary D. Rhodes and John Edgar Browning. Their background and analysis essay, "America's First Vampire and the Supernatural as Artifice," appears as an afterword rather than an introduction, probably to avoid inflicting spoilers on readers who might start with the editors' introduction. (I read it first anyway.) It surveys earlier nineteenth-century vampire fiction and the history of the dime novel, then discusses THE VAMPIRE in particular. Although this book was originally published anonymously, the "About the Author" preface cites evidence to identify Hawley Smart, a British army officer turned writer, as the probable author. Dime novels were short paperbacks of adventure, crime, suspense, and horror popular in the late nineteenth century. They seldom featured actual supernatural phenomena, as, indeed, THE VAMPIRE doesn't, although it does include ample suspense and horror. The publisher of this edition highlights it as "America's first vampire novel."

Murder victims turn up with punctures in their necks resembling fang marks. A police officer who discovers one body gets a glimpse of an ominous figure whose black cloak resembles the wings of a huge bird of prey. There's an orphaned damsel in distress, brought to New York as the mysterious beneficiary of a millionaire's inexplicable generosity. A stalwart young hero falls in love with her and helps to rescue her from the villain. We never learn definitely whether the "vampire" is simply a deranged serial killer who believes he needs blood or the need is genuine, enhancing the horror dimension of the story. New York landmarks and cultural elements (including stereotypical Irish-accented policemen) give the novel a convincingly realistic background to offset the melodramatic, often farfetched plot.

Detective Brand, as mentioned by the editors, somewhat foreshadows Sherlock Holmes. Brand is a brilliant investigator called in when the police are stumped. He's a bit eccentric and takes only cases that intrigue him because of their unusual features. He's also a master of disguise. Holmes, however, would certainly not let himself be lured to a strange woman's home—unless he recognized the trap and intended to turn the tables on the would-be seductress. Brand solves the murders at least as much by luck and coincidence as by rational deduction.

This is a fun, fast-paced mystery with abundant plot twists and life-threatening cliffhangers. Vintage vampire fans who can suspend disbelief and let themselves get swept along by the melodrama will probably relish it.

Margaret L. Carter

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

Thursday, April 14, 2022

The Secret History of Vampires

THE SECRET HISTORY OF VAMPIRES (2007), edited by Darrell Schweitzer and Martin H. Greenberg, brings to mind Greenberg's THE TIME OF THE VAMPIRES (1996), another anthology of stories about vampires in different eras of the past. SECRET HISTORY, however, focuses more particularly on the theme of the undead meeting important historical persons at the nexus of pivotal events. As Schweitzer's introduction speculates, if immortal vampires manipulated events from the shadows through past centuries, what agendas might they have?

This all-original anthology starts with "Under St. Peter's," by bestselling alternate history writer Harry Turtledove. Most readers will probably guess the identity of the prisoner hidden under Vatican City well before the end, but the revelation is still grimly effective. In "A Princess of Spain," by Carrie Vaughn, we learn the truth behind the death of Prince Arthur, first husband of Catherine of Aragon. "Garbo Quits," by Ron Goulart, reveals why Greta Garbo's acting career ended. Gregory Frost, in "Ill-Met in Ilium," renders in narrative poetry an untold episode from the Trojan War. "Two Hunters in Manhattan," by Mike Resnick, takes place early in Teddy Roosevelt's career, while serving as the New York Commissioner of Police. "Sepulchres of the Undead," by Keith Taylor, is set in ancient Egypt. Saint Anthony appears as a vampire fighting his curse in "The Temptation of Saint Anthony," by Brian Stableford. P. D. Cacek, Sarah A. Hoyt, Tanith Lee, and John Gregory Betancourt, among others, also appear in the roster of contributors. Napoleon, Lenin, Helen of Troy, and Cleopatra are some of the other historical figures we meet.

My personal favorite is Chelsea Quinn Yarbro's "Harpy," set in ancient Greece, wherein her immortal Count Saint-Germain grants us a fresh perspective on the unfairly maligned wife of a famed philosopher. My only complaint about THE SECRET HISTORY OF VAMPIRES concerns the arrangement of the stories. Why aren't they printed in chronological order instead of scattered through the millennia seemingly at random?

Margaret L. Carter

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

Monday, March 14, 2022

Vamps

The anthology VAMPS (1987), edited by Martin H. Greenberg and Charles G. Waugh, reprinted sixteen stories of female vampires, mostly from the nineteenth and early to mid-twentieth centuries, plus two more recent. Those two, "One for the Road," by Stephen King, and "Red as Blood," by Tanith Lee, may be familiar to many fans but not all. King's story revisits the abandoned town of 'Salem's Lot, where a few creatures of the night still lie in wait for unwary travelers. Tanith Lee creates an unforgettable dark fairy tale of Snow White as an unnatural child and her stepmother, the new queen, as a good witch intent on protecting her people.

This volume contains a few often-reprinted standards, making it a useful introductory text for novices in search of the female undead who lurk in the fiction of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. These include Theophile Gautier's "Clarimonda" (frequently published elsewhere under various English titles), J. Sheridan Le Fanu's "Carmilla," F. Marion Crawford's "For the Blood Is the Life" (the exhumation of the terrifying yet pitiable undead girl presents one of the most chilling images in this subgenre, in my opinion), and Fritz Leiber's modern take on the psychic vampire in an age of mass communication, "The Girl with the Hungry Eyes."

Among the other selections appear two of Manly Wade Wellman's many vampire tales, "The Last Grave of Lill Warran," a rural folk horror piece starring investigator of the supernatural John Thunstone, and "When It Was Moonlight," wherein Edgar Allan Poe tangles with an undead woman while researching premature burials. Robert Bloch's delightful "The Cloak," which was adapted (with many changes) as one segment of the film THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD, features an authentic vampire cape that transforms the wearer. Another sinister garment works a transformation in Richard Matheson's much darker story of a child vampire, "Dress of White Silk." We meet an energy-draining character in Mary Wilkins Freeman's "Luella Miller" and a wronged woman whose thirst for vengeance turns her into a revenant who returns with every snowstorm in "The Drifting Snow," by August Derleth. In one of my favorite vintage pulp stories, "She Only Goes Out at Night," by William Tenn, the young lady described in the title isn't evil at all, but the victim of a hereditary disease, ultimately controlled by modern medical science to give her a happy ending with the man she loves.

Julian Hawthorne ("Ken's Mystery," a tale of supernatural time travel in a haunted Irish countryside), David Keller ("Heredity," which draws upon obsolete concepts of "atavism" to explain its horrific scenario), and Seabury Quinn ("Restless Souls," one of many stories featuring occult expert Jules de Grandin) complete the roster of distinguished authors. Readers could hardly ask for a more wide-ranging yet deeply rooted overview of the female vampire trope in classic and vintage fiction. My only complaint is that the contents aren't in chronological order, as would be logical. Amazon offers reasonably priced secondhand copies of at least three different editions of this book.

Margaret L. Carter

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

Monday, February 14, 2022

Draculas

I picked up DRACULAS (2010), an unusual collaboration among Blake Crouch, Jack Kilborn, Jeff Strand, and F. Paul Wilson, because the premise intrigued me: Mortimer Moorecock, an elderly, sick, very wealthy man, buys a bizarre skull discovered in a farmer's field in Romania. Although humanoid, it isn't a specimen of any recognized hominid species, having a jaw full of shark-like teeth. On the wild chance that the skull actually came from a vampire, Moorecock expects it to rejuvenate him. Never mind that if the creature belonged to a different species, its nature couldn't be contagious, and if the vampiric condition is transmitted by venom or a microorganism, surely neither would be viable after thousands or millions of years in the ground. Nevertheless, upon contact with the fangs Moorecock almost instantly displays alarming symptoms. After he's rushed to a hospital, in a terrifyingly brief time he transforms into a ravening monster. Since anyone bitten changes rapidly, the infection—portrayed as a contagious disease—spreads from the emergency room throughout the building.

Given the nearly mindless condition of most of the victims, the scenario resembles a localized version of a zombie apocalypse. I find it slightly strange that the viewpoint characters label the monsters "draculas" instead of vampires; it's been many decades since Count Dracula was the only pop-culture vampire most people had come across. Scenes are narrated from multiple viewpoints, each chapter helpfully headed with the name of the viewpoint character. Heroes, antagonists, and ordinary people caught in the random outbreaks of violence all get their moments in the spotlight. Some of the characters are sympathetic and appealing, many of them not so much. The narrative is heavy on action, violence, and rapid-fire dialogue, low on introspection. Still, we do get acquainted with some of the characters thoroughly enough to root for them and feel sorry if the monsters kill them, which happens often.

The scenes are interwoven so smoothly that the reader can't tell when one of the four authors replaces another. (At least, I couldn't.) An afterword, consisting of a dialogue among the authors, discusses the development of the novel's concept and how the collaboration worked. I was slightly disappointed that we never learn much about either the skull's origin or the biology and physiology of the "draculas," my main interest. The unremitting suspense and life-or-death danger to the few admirable characters held my attention to the end. But I didn't care for the extreme violence and gore or the too-frequent instances of what used to be called "four-letter words." While I admire the skillful plotting and writing, if the novel had a sequel I wouldn't feel motivated to seek it out. This is a book for readers who enjoy fast-paced horror fiction with graphically bloody scenes. In short (to quote somebody or other), if you like this kind of thing, this is the kind of thing you'll like.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Friday, January 14, 2022

A Vampire Christmas Carol

As suggested by the title, A VAMPIRE CHRISTMAS CAROL (2011), by Sarah Gray, is another posthumous "collaboration" similar to PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES and LITTLE VAMPIRE WOMEN (reviewed here last month). Subtitled "Ebenezer Scrooge, Vampire Slayer," Gray's adaptation of A CHRISTMAS CAROL depends less on incongruity than many of those works. It isn't that much of a stretch to envision Scrooge stalked by vampires as well as haunted by ghosts. A VAMPIRE CHRISTMAS CAROL also alters and embellishes the plot of its model more than many other such adaptations do. For example, Scrooge's former fiancee, Belle, appears in the present and plays a vital role in Scrooge's redemption. Remaining in touch with him and never having married, she hosts a house of refuge for vampire hunters. As far as Scrooge's membership in the fraternity of slayers is concerned, the book's subtitle applies only to the final section, after he awakens on Christmas morning prepared to do his part in the battle against evil.

In this alternate England vampires are known to exist, although not everyone believes in them. Scrooge is one of the skeptics, applying his "Bah, humbug" philosophy to the notion of vampires as well as Christmas and charity to the poor. In this version of the tale, he employs two clerks, one of whom is a minion of the undead. On the other hand, Bob Cratchit and Scrooge's nephew, Fred, are hunters. The tenants in the cellar of Scrooge's own house are vampires, unsuspected by him. In answer to Belle's prayers, Marley visits Scrooge to set him straight on all those matters as well as the truth of his own past. Under the guidance of the Ghost of Christmas Past, he learns how the Queen of Vampires has dominated his fate from the shadows for his entire life. In this novel vampires are irredeemably evil, and the author plays the horror absolutely straight.

A VAMPIRE CHRISTMAS CAROL, in my opinion, elaborates on the classic novel enough to qualify as a work of fanfiction rather than a simple parody.

Margaret L. Carter

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

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Little Vampire Women

It's easy to guess that LITTLE VAMPIRE WOMEN (2010), adapted by Lynn Messina from Louisa May Alcott's classic novel, followed in the wake of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES (2009) and similar reimaginings of public domain works. (A few others published around the same period include LITTLE WOMEN AND WEREWOLVES, SENSE AND SENSIBILITY AND SEA MONSTERS, JANE SLAYRE, and WUTHERING BITES.) LITTLE VAMPIRE WOMEN strikes me as more successfully transformative than PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES because of the former's greater consistency of tone. PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES veers between genuine horror and moments of sheer silliness, while LITTLE VAMPIRE WOMEN mostly maintains the original's mix of light domestic problems and more serious tribulations along a smooth continuum with little or no jarring dissonance.

Most of the familiar incidents from Alcott's novel appear in Messina's adaptation, but they're rewritten in vampire-centered terms. The girls are much like their prototypes, aside from sleeping in coffins and drinking blood. The book begins with the unforgettable line, "Christmas won't be Christmas without any corpses." Not human corpses, however. The March family embraces the "humanitarian" way of life (or undeath), never feeding on non-consenting human donors. Impoverished compared to their former condition, although (like their models in the original) still able to maintain their home and pay Hannah, their faithful housekeeper, they live on blood purchased from the butcher shop. Small animals such as rodents comprise rare treats, and the girls envy their acquaintances who can afford luxuries such as live cows. Four orphaned sisters, they were "sired" by Mr. March when he and Marmee longed for children. After more than thirty years as vampires, Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy still look, think, and behave like teenagers. The fact that they never age seems inconsistent with the statement that young vampires are considered mature at age fifty and expected to strike out into the world. If those turned as children or young teens never grow up, how can they live on their own? Also, an offhand remark that vampires have walked the earth long before the human species seems impossible if all vampires are transformed humans. Neither of these points, however, affects the plot.

The overarching conflict focuses on vampire slayers, who hunt the undead regardless of whether they're vicious or (as most are) benign. Jo aspires to join the ranks of defenders who protect vampires against slayers. Instead of writing stories, she compiles a notebook of combat techniques and facts about slayers. It's this book, rather than a novel manuscript, that Amy burns in a fit of rage. Aunt March, whom Jo grudgingly serves as a paid companion, is a paranoid old (400 years) lady who views all mortals as potential slayers like the one who decapitated her husband. Beth, like her classic counterpart, loves kittens, although her pets suffer rapid turnover. Amy and Meg try to emulate more prosperous, fashionable vampires, but Amy becomes a gifted artist as she matures, and Meg, as in the original, falls in love with Laurie's tutor, John Brooke. Jo, practicing the skills she's learning from Gentleman Jackson, a distinguished trainer of vampire defenders, suspects Brooke of being a slayer who deliberately infected Beth and their father with a disease fatal to vampires. Human neighbor Laurie wants to become a vampire but meanwhile enjoys his years as a college student. Professor Bhaer, Jo's eventual husband, is a 600-year-old Transylvanian, whose wisdom guides her in her slayer-fighting career.

Fans of LITTLE WOMEN whose interests also encompass vampires will probably find this adaptation entertaining.

Margaret L. Carter

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

Sunday, November 14, 2021

The Spy Who Drank Blood

Gordon Linzner, long-time editor of SPACE AND TIME magazine, wrote an odd little (127 pages) thriller called THE SPY WHO DRANK BLOOD (1984), starring a vampire with a definite license to kill. The title echoes both THE SPY WHO LOVED ME and the horror movie THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD. Code-named Blood (naturally), Linzner's secret agent is kept on a tighter leash than James Bond. Blood, who has long since abandoned his original name, became a vampire after getting killed while on assignment in the Balkans in 1961. He doesn't sleep in a coffin, but in a similarly-shaped casket in a cryogenic chamber. When needed for a mission, he's awakened by his handler, Arthur Blanchard. Bottled blood awaits the vampire after his revival, along with personal care supplies and fresh clothes. He then receives his orders, ordinarily in writing, but at the beginning of this novel, he's summoned to speak with Blanchard in person. It's immediately clear that Blood resists any attempt at maintaining personal connections from his mortal days, as shown by his flare-up of anger when Blanchard calls him by his old name.

As the reader has already witnessed in the opening scene, Blanchard's daughter, Andrea, a journalist on the track of an alleged strange creature lurking in the Everglades, has been kidnapped by terrorists. Rescue of a sort comes at the hands, or claws, of a monster who attacks her captors and carries her off. That's when the story shifts to Blood's awakening and his briefing by Blanchard. Dispatched to the area where Andrea was kidnapped, the agent poses as a journalist investigating her disappearance. The novel, told from multiple viewpoints, contains plenty of twists, fast-moving action, and combat scenes. Blood, of course, uses his inhuman powers to accomplish feats an ordinary man couldn't. When he finds Andrea, he also uncovers the ghastly truth about the swamp monster. While the undead protagonist and his covert employment hold plenty of series potential, no sequels were apparently published, at least none at book length discoverable on Amazon.

The vampire agent essentially has no life outside his job. Between missions, he rests in suspended animation. When revived for a mission, he focuses on it to the exclusion of anything else. Aside from his craving for blood, he seems driven solely by loyalty to his professional obligations.

I was surprised to find that Amazon has a 2019 reprint edition for sale, new. If you like both vampires and spy-thriller pastiches of the James-Bond-inspired type, you might enjoy this book.

Margaret L. Carter

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

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Varney the Vampyre

The title character of VARNEY THE VAMPYRE; OR, THE FEAST OF BLOOD (1847) is one of the "big four" classic nineteenth-century fictional vampires, the others being Lord Ruthven in John Polidori's "The Vampyre" (1819), Carmilla in J. Sheridan Le Fanu's novella by that name (1872), and of course Count Dracula (1897, coincidentally fifty years after the book publication of VARNEY). Neither of them, incidentally, has to worry about destruction by sunlight, a trope invented in the silent film NOSFERATU. VARNEY originated as a "penny dreadful," published in multiple cheap installments before its release in three-volume book form in 1847. Originally its authorship was attributed to Thomas Preskett (sometimes cited as "Peckett") Prest, but now James Malcolm Rymer is generally accepted as the principal author. Most likely, several writers contributed to the novel, given its internal inconsistencies. The narrative offers least two different versions of Sir Francis Varney's age, backstory, and method of becoming a vampire. His powers, limitations, and personality also change over the course of the 800-plus pages.

The book's quality is uneven, to say the least. It's rambling and repetitious, with Varney constantly trying to marry innocent young woman, a motif probably borrowed from several of the many stage plays starring Polidori's Lord Ruthven. In each episode, Varney is thwarted and driven out of town, often by a vampire-hunting retired admiral and his comic-relief sidekick. The typical modern reader isn't likely to find much of the alleged humor very funny. The longest and most effective episode is the first, when Varney pursues a maiden named Flora Bannerworth. The often reprinted opening scene of the book, his attack on Flora in her bed, portrays a bloodcurdling assault by an inhuman monster with dead, gray eyes like polished metal. He escapes, pursued and shot by Flora's male protectors, only to vanish when moonlight revives him from apparent death (again, like Lord Ruthven). In later scenes, he poses as a wealthy gentleman readily accepted in the home of his upper-class neighbors. The influence of the Byronic anti-hero tradition is readily apparent at some points, especially when he visits Flora alone and pleads for her sympathy. In another memorable sequence late in the novel, Varney transforms a female victim into a vampire; her grieving friends go to her tomb and destroy her in a scene that strikingly foreshadows the staking of Lucy in DRACULA.

Varney develops into an early incarnation of the repentant vampire. At the end, he confesses his crimes to a clergyman, then travels to Italy where, in a fit of remorse, he immolates himself by plunging into the crater of Mount Vesuvius.

The book remained essentially unobtainable until the 1970s, with only a few copies known to have survived. Now you can find multiple editions on Amazon, including some cheap or free Kindle versions. If you decide to check out VARNEY, make sure you're getting the complete novel, since one publisher markets it in several volumes, each sold separately.

Margaret L. Carter

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