Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Dark Dance

In DARK DANCE (1992), celebrated science fiction and fantasy author Tanith Lee creates a twisted variation on the traditional Gothic love story with its mysterious, charismatic anti-hero, atmospheric, forbidding old house, and naive heroine. While not a conventional romance, DARK DANCE, first book of the Blood Opera trilogy, centering on the not-quite-human Scarabae clan, begins like a formulaic Gothic novel. The orphaned Rachaela is summoned to the isolated mansion of her father's peculiar family. There she meets her long-lost father, Adamus, who looks no more than thirty years old. Repeating the pattern of his single night with Rachaela's mother, Adamus mates with Rachaela only until she becomes pregnant. Their child, Ruth, matures with abnormal speed and grows, of course, into a bloodthirsty creature like her father. DARK DANCE somewhat brings to mind Anne Rice's THE WITCHING HOUR (1990), another horror novel of a woman ensnared by her previously unknown family and forced to conceive an inhuman child.

In the ravishingly attractive, hypersexual Adamus, Lee presents a nightmare parody of the tender, passionate, Byronic vampire lover of conventional dark romance. He cares nothing for Rachaela except in terms of her fitness to bear the "Scarabae seed." He plans to breed with their daughter, Ruth, as soon as she reaches the age of fertility. Rachaela visualizes the Scarabae as animals, "wild things dwelling in a stained-glass forest." They present themselves to her as a persecuted race. But Rachaela feels no attachment to or sympathy for them, nor does she feel anything for Adamus aside from erotic attraction mingled with bitter resentment. Ruth is a "thing" to Rachaela, a parasite that has used her body. She imagines Ruth wearing a sign around her neck: "Conceived from my father while he drank my blood, suspected of being a demon."

The two sequels are PERSONAL DARKNESS (1992), the aftermath of a murderous rampage by Ruth, who has grown up to be, if not outright evil, dangerously unstable, and DARKNESS I (1994), in which Rachaela bears another Scarabae daughter, who also matures at a preternatural rate, while the ancient progenitor of the clan hunts for the girl. A deeply disturbing three-volume work of science-fantasy and horror, highly recommended.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

By Blood Alone

After Anne Rice's bestselling INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE (1976), having a vampire tell his or her story in his/her own voice became trendy. Not that Rice did it first; Fred Saberhagen's THE DRACULA TAPE (1975) beat her by a year. In a further refinement, some vampires reveal their past lives/unlives to therapists. Arguably, the first such novel (that I know of) was SOME OF YOUR BLOOD (1961), by Theodore Sturgeon, although the protagonist isn't a literal vampire but a human blood-drinker. Later, Suzy McKee Charnas did it in THE VAMPIRE TAPESTRY (1980) and S. P. Somtow in VAMPIRE JUNCTION (1984). If you count short stories, however, at least one using the vampire-in-therapy trope appeared much earlier, the humorous piece "Blood Brother" (1961), by Charles Beaumont.

And then there's BY BLOOD ALONE (1979), by Bernhardt J. Hurwood, best known for his nonfiction guides to vampires and related monsters. Not only does INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE get name-checked in the front cover tagline, in the text Hurwood's vampire mentions Rice's novel as being more accurate than most. Although the bulk of BY BLOOD ALONE comprises a transcript of the vampire's therapy sessions, with the psychiatrist's notes, the story begins with an investigation into a decapitation murder. The victim's wealthy father hires private detective Russell Dorne to delve into the case. Dorne's character is refreshingly free of "cynical hardboiled PI" cliches. He's not a drunk or a womanizer. He doesn't break the law or go out of his way to antagonize cops. In fact, he has a good friend in a high position on the police force, and he cooperates courteously with the officers assigned to the case. A clue leads them to a mausoleum where they find an empty coffin and, outside, an apparently ancient skeleton dressed in modern clothes. Discovering a psychiatrist's business card in the tomb, Dorne makes an appointment with the doctor and persuades him to share the therapy transcript, on the grounds that the patient has disappeared. (No HIPAA regulations in 1979!) Almost all the rest of the book, as mentioned above, consists of the patient's file.

Zachary Sexton claims to have been born in New York in 1811. The doctor understandably considers this claim a psychotic delusion but keeps his skepticism low-key to avoid arousing Sexton's hostility. The vampire has sought out a psychiatrist to listen to his life story and recommend a way for him to die, since he's sick of his undead existence. He's inherently unable to deliberately kill himself, a restriction that strains my suspension of disbelief. I forced myself to accept it as a necessary premise of the story, however; for example, a similar premise motivates the "evil" vampire in Elaine Bergstrom's excellent SHATTERED GLASS (1989). Sexton covers the entire scope of his life and unlife, from arising from death and learning the needs, abilities, and limitations of undead existence, through finding victims, concealing his murders, coping with the tedium of endless life, and spending decades with a female vampire companion, to the present day. Although he maintains that, as an animated corpse, he feels no true emotions, the doctor accurately points out that his autobiographical statements sometimes contradict that claim. Despite the psychiatrist's growing amazement at the complexity and consistency of the patient's "delusion," he maintains his rational disbelief to the end -- almost.

Concerning Sexton's difficulty with attaining the death he says he craves, I had no trouble thinking of ways he could solve that problem. Since he's a "destruction by sunlight" vampire, he might lock himself out of his daytime shelter and dispose of the key in some inaccessible place. Or he might hire an assassin to destroy him while helpless during his daylight coma. Also, the abrupt conclusion in the final scene struck me as gimmicky and a bit of a letdown. Still, this novel is well worth reading, for its detailed thought experiment on how a ruthless, clever vampire might cope with the demands of his condition over several lifetimes, if you can find a used copy cheaper than those offered on Amazon.

Margaret L. Carter

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

Sunday, January 15, 2023

Horror Stories of M. R. James

Most horror fans have probably come across the classic ghost stories of M. R. James (1865-1936). Some of the most often anthologized pieces first appeared in his GHOST STORIES OF AN ANTIQUARY. Several more comprehensive collections of James's fiction are in print; I recommend CASTING THE RUNES AND OTHER GHOST STORIES, published by the Oxford University Press, which features a detailed introduction as well as twenty-one stories. Many of them focus on antiquarian characters and take place in ecclesiastical or other ancient settings. "Casting the Runes," an account of supernatural vengeance by a decidedly nasty expert in the occult who puts his research into practical application, culminates in the persecuted victim's being stalked by a creature the villain conjures up. Unlike many horror fiction protagonists, the victim manages to turn the curse back on the occultist. The protagonist of another well-known classic in this volume, "Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad," comes into possession of an antique whistle with a Latin inscription translated as, "Who is this that is coming?" The protagonist playfully decides to find out by blowing the whistle. A huge mistake, as any genre-savvy reader would know. In "The Mezzotint," a sinister figure in a picture begins to move whenever not being watched. The picture's owner, as one would expect, falls victim to a mysterious death. All these entities are especially terrifying because of their amorphous, essentially inhuman character.

Strangely, this book doesn't include "Lost Hearts," which I consider the author's creepiest and yet saddest story. An eleven-year-old orphan comes to live with his wealthy, reclusive cousin, a scholar of the occult. Unexplained sounds in the cellar and scratches on doors puzzle the boy until one night when he catches sight of a pair of ghostly children, mournful and "hungry," with gaping holes in their chests. The wicked cousin is found dead with a similar wound. This tale displays vampire-related motifs, since the villain's goal was to extend his life by using the hearts of his victims in a dark ritual, and the child revenants prey on him in turn. "Lost Hearts" appears in GHOST STORIES OF AN ANTIQUARY, sold on Amazon in several editions and free to read on the Project Gutenberg website:

Ghost Stories of an Antiquary

CASTING THE RUNES AND OTHER GHOST STORIES includes James's two best-known vampire stories, "Count Magnus" and "An Episode of Cathedral History." The protagonist of "Count Magnus," an English traveler doing research for a book, comes upon the tomb of the title character in Sweden. Count Magnus de la Gardie, notorious for his cruelty, was rumored to have delved into dark magic and made the "Black Pilgrimage" in a quest for means of prolonging his life. Upon visiting his mausoleum, the protagonist idly remarks, "Count Magnus, there you are. I should dearly like to see you." In another cautionary tale (like "Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad") on the theme of "Be careful what you wish for," over the next few days the three padlocks securing the coffin lid fall off. The Englishman flees from two sinister figures that appear to pursue him, until at last he meets a grisly death.

"An Episode of Cathedral History" features a more overtly vampiric revenant. A frame narrative introduces a flashback story an old man tells about the "episode" that happened when he was a boy in 1840. During a renovation of the cathedral in the title, an anonymous, centuries-old tomb incurs minor damage. A gradual buildup toward the revelation of the supernatural menace follows, with strange noises and other hints of something stirring inside the monument. At the climax, we get a glimpse of a dark thing emerging from the tomb, with "a mass of hair and two legs, and the light caught on its eyes." This understated but chilling moment leads into the final line of the story, an inscription on the cross affixed to the accursed site: "Ibi Cubavit Lamia." A lamia, of course, is a type of vampiric female demon in classical mythology.

James also wrote a tale of spectral vampires, "Wailing Well," not included in this collection. It recounts the fate of a boy who defiantly trespasses on a forbidden patch of land with the titular well at the center. Four ghostly entities, described as "hideous black" figures that look barely human, haunt the spot. Desperate attempts to save the boy fail, with the would-be rescuers blocked by the unnatural atmosphere of the place. Too late, the victim's body is recovered, drained of blood, and thereafter five ghastly creatures lurk at the well. You can read it here:

Wailing Well

James's work epitomizes "quiet horror," nevertheless slowly building to no less frightful climaxes than those found in many more violent tales of terror.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Holiday Greetings

Happy longest-nights season -- ideal for vampires! If you're in the mood for a mashup of the undead and winter holidays, check out A VAMPIRE CHRISTMAS CAROL, which I reviewed on this blog in January 2022:

A Vampire Christmas Carol

Also, you might enjoy my December-set vampire novel CHILD OF TWILIGHT, which concludes on Christmas Eve. (No, it has nothing to do with a certain bestselling series. The first edition of mine was published earlier.) Although it's the direct sequel to DARK CHANGELING, it's readable on its own. Both books are now available together as a Kindle omnibus titled TWILIGHT'S CHANGELINGS:

Twilight's Changelings

Margaret L. Carter

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

Monday, November 14, 2022

The Ghost Stories of E. F. Benson

NIGHT TERRORS: THE GHOST STORIES OF E. F. BENSON (2012) constitutes a collection of over fifty works by a classic early-twentieth-century author. It includes fiction from many different subcategories of horror, naturally. However, among them you'll find his vintage vampire stories.

"The Face" introduces a happily married woman who has suffered a pair of recurring dreams for many years. In the first, she approaches the graveyard of a ruined church on a cliff above the sea. In the second, the true nightmare, she reaches the cemetery, where she confronts the leering face of a man who declares he will come for her soon. Shortly after the most recent return of the dreams, she stumbles upon the man's portrait, two hundred years old, in an art gallery. Her health begins to decline. A seaside vacation to repair her shattered nerves, ironically, brings her to the cemetery of her nightmares, which holds the ominous man's grave. Our last glimpse of her shows her walking with the strange man, whose disinterred body is later found after a storm and landslide, perfectly undecayed.

In "The Thing in the Hall," seances and an experiment with hypnosis conjure an elemental, a creature like a large slug that first appears as a shadow and then grows more substantial. Its victims are found dead with their throats slashed.

Another slug-like elemental stalks in the better-known story "Negotium Perambulans." It haunts the vicinity of a house whose impious builder had constructed it from the materials of a church he destroyed. The current church contains a panel depicting "the figure of a robed priest holding up a cross, with which he faced a terrible creature like a gigantic slug." The narrator, however, inclines to the belief that the loathesome entity is a naturally evolved, material creature. It leaves its victims "skin and bones as if every drop of blood had been sucked out." The description of the thing itself provides as gruesome an image of stomach-turning horror as one could hope to find in classic supernatural fiction.

"And No Bird Sings" features a patch of woodland that drains life-energy from living creatures. The bloodthirsty dead woman in "The Room in the Tower" preys on her victims, guests in the titular room, through the medium of her portrait.

The title character of Benson's best-known vampire story, the often reprinted "Mrs. Amworth," stands out from most such creatures by her gregarious, forthright, down-to-earth personality. Far from shunning daylight, she loves the outdoors and gardening. First a living vampire (perhaps hereditary), she rises as a typical undead after she's accidentally killed. The narrator's best friend, a retired professor of physiology with an interest in the occult, plays the Van Helsing role, with the narrator as a Watson-like representative of the audience.

In addition to these tales of vampirism, the NIGHT TERRORS collection includes numerous acclaimed classic stories of terror (e.g., "How Fear Departed from the Long Gallery," "Caterpillars," and "The Wishing-Well," among others) as well as more obscure pieces seldom or never found in anthologies.

Margaret L. Carter

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

Friday, October 14, 2022

Generation V

In GENERATION V (2013), M. L. Brennan designs a naturally evolved vampire species that's unique in at least one aspect of its biology, as far as I know. Fortitude, the protagonist, strenuously but ineffectively strives to reject the heritage of his species in favor of leading a quasi-human existence. He has a college degree in an impractical major, a job at a coffee shop, an unfaithful girlfriend, and an obnoxious roommate. Unlike most stereotypical Gen X bachelors coping with their first experiences of “real life,” however, he belongs to a family of vampires. Not having yet made the “transition” to adult vampirism, he is still mostly human. Fort detests his need to drink blood from his mother at regular intervals and postpones it each time as long as possible. The analogy with a human slacker dude living off his parents is probably intentional.

Because, contrary to the usual custom, he was brought up until the age of nine by human foster parents, he also clings to human attitudes that baffle his mother and two siblings, Chivalry (brother, who has a human wife he truly loves) and Prudence (sister, the most sociopathic member of the family). These vampires become biologically more inhuman with increasing age, e.g. in prominence of fangs and intolerance for sunlight and solid foods. It's their mode of reproduction, though, that especially sets them apart from other fictional vampires. Both males and females have functioning genitalia but lack the ability to reproduce. Instead, they must create “hosts” through a blood-exchange process that changes the human victim’s physiology so radically that offspring conceived by him or her have vampire DNA. Creating a viable host is a difficult procedure few vampires succeed in accomplishing. Madeline, Fort’s mother, is highly unusual in having managed to create two hosts, male and female. Unfortunately, the process eventually reduces the human subjects to an animalistic, uncontrollably violent condition.

Near the beginning of the novel, a vampire from a different territory arrives to pay his respects to Madeline. When he turns out to be a homicidal pedophile, Fort becomes determined to rescue the villain’s one surviving abductee, a little girl. Fort’s family members refuse to help with what they see as an irrational mission that violates vampire etiquette. Like many urban fantasy works, this book and its sequels complicate the protagonist’s life by involving representatives of other monstrous species, such as a kitsune hired by Madeline as a bodyguard for Fort. In dealing with various nonhuman allies and antagonists as well as coping with his transition to full adulthood, Fort repeatedly finds both his principles and his competence tested. This series contains a bracing blend of suspense, humor, character growth, and ethical quandaries.

Margaret L. Carter

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

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Empire of Fear

Brian Stableford portrays vampirism as a contagious disease in THE EMPIRE OF FEAR (1988). A version of the first section was published in THE MAGAZINE OF FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION under the title "The Man Who Loved the Vampire Lady." An epic work of alternate history, EMPIRE OF FEAR takes place mainly in seventeenth-century Europe and Africa, as the Renaissance inaugurates the beginnings of modern science. The main but not exclusive viewpoint character for most of the story, Noell Cordery, devotes his career to researching the biological origin of vampirism. Interludes in the form of inserted letters from various characters provide other perspectives. Historical figures such as Vlad Tepes appear.

In the world of this novel, vampires have long since consolidated their hegemony, despite the fear and hostility directed at them from some quarters. An aristocratic caste, they dominate ordinary mortals, a difference in status highlighted by references to non-vampires as "common men." Ultimately vampirism is revealed as an infection that alters the human genetic code. The virus originally came to Earth on a meteorite that landed in the depths of Africa, so that the transformed elite are almost literally aliens. Since only the semen of an infected male can effect transformation, all male vampires are engendered through homosexual intercourse. A global pandemic spreading out of Africa via sexual contact inevitably evokes the real-world AIDS epidemic. The vampiric infection, however, is benign rather than harmful; it changes its hosts into superior beings. The political, religious, and social consequences of their dominance are meticulously explored and portrayed in rich detail. After superstitions about vampirism are replaced with scientific facts, immortality becomes available to all except the minority who are immune to the virus. Freed by synthetic nourishment from the need to drink live blood, the transformed population embraces a new world order.

The novel's final section leaps ahead to 1983, when this transformation has spread worldwide. The protagonist, Michael, is a mortal man barred from the immortal privilege of the majority. Unlike Neville at the end of Richard Matheson's pioneering vampirism-as-disease work, I AM LEGEND (1954), however, Stableford's Michael is not a feared and loathed outcast, but the cherished lover of a vampire woman. Stableford's story, therefore, concludes with reconciliation rather than alienation, although in a melancholy tone.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Sunday, August 14, 2022


Okay, like the book highlighted here last month, JACOB: A NOVEL OF THE NIGHTSIDERS (2015), by David Gerrold, is less than ten years old, too. However, it's also a vampire novel many fans might have missed, somewhat unusual and well worth checking out. This slender (just under 200 pages) but intriguing book comes from the author of the classic STAR TREK script “The Trouble with Tribbles” and many other SF works. The narrative invokes an obviously deliberate parallel to Rice’s INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE, as the title character applies the label “interview” to his conversations with the narrator. The latter is a struggling author who attains some modest success over the course of the novel.

Jacob first approaches him at a meeting of a writers’ critique group, interest apparently piqued by the narrator’s perceptive remarks. Unlike the structure of Rice’s novel, which compresses Louis’s interview into a single session, JACOB shows the vampire revealing his past little by little in a series of dialogues over several years. Gerrold describes vampirism as a non-supernatural infectious disease, a “parasitic symbiosis” that converts its host into an “apex predator.” Vampires exercise cautious restraint in choosing people to transform, and only the very reckless create child or adolescent vampires. As Jacob points out, why would anyone want a callow youth as an immortal companion? Also unlike Louis, Jacob doesn’t describe the process of his transformation. In fact, we never learn how the change is done.

Born in Seattle in 1858, Jacob was orphaned at an early age and had to live on the streets, stealing and whoring. “Monsieur,” seeing potential in him, adopted and educated him, eventually sending him to Harvard. By then, Jacob knew of his guardian’s true nature, at least as much as Monsieur chose to reveal. Jacob expected to be transformed eventually. But then he received news of a fire that destroyed the mansion in Seattle, with the owner presumed dead. Jacob tells the narrator of his search for other vampires, almost impossible to find if they don’t want to be, and some details of his post-transformation life. According to Jacob, vampires purposely choose for conversion people who, if not sociopaths already, have the capacity to become such. Only a sociopath could endure having to kill uncounted numbers of victims to survive over centuries of existence.

Logical—IF a vampire must kill every time he or she feeds, a premise I always find annoying. To me, it doesn’t make sense for an intelligent predator to endanger himself that way without a plausible reason, which few authors provide (with some notable exceptions). And even though Jacob states or at least strongly implies that vampires have to kill whenever they feed, we later witness him sipping from several victims in a row and letting them live. Aside from this quibble, I found the novel totally convincing.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

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.