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Posts Tagged ‘Dracula’

Sarah Perry follows up her fabulous 2016 novel The Essex Serpent with a lush literary Gothic, Melmoth (Custom House/HarperCollins, digital galley), which thrills in a more haunting and somber manner. In 2016, middle-aged British translator Helen Franklin leads an austere life in Prague, apparently to atone for an undisclosed incident in her past. But then her friend Karel disappears after having given her a strange, confessional manuscript whose stories are tied together by the spectral figure of Melmoth. The latter is a creature out of folklore and myth, doomed to wander the world in solitude as she witnesses acts of betrayal throughout history. She appears to those lonely souls consumed by guilt and complicity who have given into despair, and then bids them follow her. She is so lonely. Why, then, is she watching Helen? Or is it just Helen’s fevered imagination, inspired by the manuscripts’s chilling stories, perhaps her own suppressed guilt? Helen’s tale is full of portents like chattering jackdaws, but it’s what she — and the reader — witness in the manuscript that imprints on the memory: crimes of war, suffering and exile. “Look!” is Perry’s imperative throughout. Witness the heartache but also the hope of forgiveness. Given Perry’s way with words, it’s hard to look away.

 

Dale Bailey’s In the Night Wood (Houghton Mifflin, digital galley) is a clever and chilling novel of marriage, grief, obsession and Something Mysterious. American college professor Charles Hayden and his wife Erin take up residence at the secluded English estate that was once home of the Victorian writer Caedmon Hollow, author of a strange, fanciful book, “In the Night Wood.” The recent death of their young daughter Lissa haunts both Charles and Erin. She has given up her law career and numbs her grief with pills and drink, while Charles tries to escape his by researching Hollow’s tragic life. At different times, both glimpse a sinister horned man in the encroaching woods who figured in Hollow’s book. Further research and a series of coincidences has Charles believing that there is fact in the fiction of the pagan god Herne the Hunter. A little girl from the village has disappeared in the wood; her body has not been found. Bailey is adept at building a menacing atmosphere, although numerous literary allusions tend to overload his prose and sap the magic.

Witches, vampires and demons intermingle with mere mortals in Deborah Harkness’ popular All Souls Trilogy, which began with A Discovery of Witches (now a British TV series). With Time’s Convert (Viking Penguin, digital galley), Harkness returns to that world, bringing back many familiar characters, including witch Diana Bishop and vampire Matthew de Clermont, now married and parents of young twins. But the main characters are Matthew’s son Marcus Whitmore, who became a vampire while a field doctor in the American Revolution, and 23-year-old human Phoebe Taylor, who is about to become a vampire in Paris and marry Marcus. Harkness moves back and forth between centuries and exotic locales to chronicle the mental and physical struggles the pair undergo separately to satisfy the demands of tradition. Readers familiar with Harkness’s previous works will appreciate the further adventures of her characters and the elaboration on customs. The twins Becca and Philip are already showing signs of having inherited their parents’ magical talents. Philip, in fact, has a new play pal — a griffin called Apollo.

With Dracul (Putnam/Penguin, digital galley), Dacre Stoker, a descendant of Dracula creator Bram Stoker, teams with writer J.D. Barker to come up with a prequel to the classic vampire novel, and Bram himself is a main character. Readers are introduced to him as a terrified 21-year-old in 1868, waiting alone in a tower at night. As Something lurks outside the locked door, Bram writes of his family’s history in Ireland, primarily his own sickly childhood. He was miraculously saved from death by his nursemaid Ellen Crone, who then disappeared. Some years later, Bram’s sister Matilda reports from Paris that she has seen Ellen, and so begins a quest leading to the revelation that Ellen is a Dearg-Due, a bloodsucking creature of Irish folklore but subject to a more powerful master. (I’m not giving the story away — readers will be aware that Ellen is some sort of vampire from the get-go). Dracul is too over-the-top to provide the genuine chills of the original Dracula, but it’s an entertaining tale nonetheless.

 

An English country house. A missing diamond. A sepia photograph. A star-crossed romance. A children’s story. A plucky orphan. A disappearance. A drowning. A ghost. . . The ghost plays a major role in Kate Morton’s new saga, The Clockmaker’s Daughter (Atria Books, review copy), which I reviewed for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. The review hasn’t been published yet, but as soon as it does, I’ll post it on Facebook and Goodreads and provide a link here. Happy Halloween!

 

 

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January 6 has long been considered the birthday of the great detective Sherlock Holmes by members of the Baker Street Irregulars, the foremost society of Holmes’ scholars and enthusiasts. That Holmes is the fictional creation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle matters not. As T.S. Eliot wrote in a 1929 review of  The Complete Sherlock Holmes Short Stories, “Perhaps the greatest of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries is this: that when we talk of him we invariably fall into the fancy of his existence.”

This apt quotation appears at the beginning of Chapter 22, “The Great Hiatus,” of Graham Moore’s entertaining novel, The Sherlockian, in which several games are afoot. Additional quotations, many of them from the canon itself, introduce the other chapters, which briskly alternate between January of 2010 and the time when Doyle was writing the Holmes stories — or rather not writing them.

 As even the most amateur Sherlockians know, Doyle killed off Holmes in December of 1893 in “The Final Problem,” a showdown with Moriarty at Reichenbech Falls. The author refused to comment as the world mourned. Then, eight years later, Doyle resurrected Holmes in “The Hound of the Baskervilles,” again without explanation.

What may have occured in this hiatus is the key fictional mystery of The Sherlockian, as it is the real-life question that still perplexes Holmes scholars. As Moore explains in his Author’s Note, his book is a “a collage of the verifiably real, the probably real, the possibly real, and the demonstrably false.” And it’s fact that a collection of Doyle’s papers vanished, including a volume of his diaries, after his death in 1930. Sherlockians’ search for it became tantamount to that of the holy grail for the next 70 years, and a famous scholar in pursuit of the missing papers died under mysterious circumstances in 2004.

In Moore’s The Sherlockian, the world’s leading Holmes/Doyle scholar declares that he has discovered the lost diary, but he is murdered in his hotel room during the annual gathering of the Baker Street Irregulars. Its newest inductee, Harold White, is our intrepid hero who determines to solve the murder and locate the still-missing diary. Other members are also testing their deductive skills, but it is Harold and a reporter named Sarah who set off for London at the behest of one of Doyle’s heirs.

Meanwhile, in the foggy London autumn of 1900 — the period covered by the missing diary — Doyle and his friend Bram Stoker (not yet famous for Dracula) become embroiled in the case of a serial killer of young brides and attempt to assist Scotland Yard in its investigations.

There’s all sorts of hugger-mugger involving Harold and Sarah, and Doyle and Stoker. The latter pair are more interesting, and Moore skillfully evokes the Victorian era giving way to the new century, symbolized by the introduction of electric lights to gloomy city streets. Doyle misses the old gaslights and their shadows. Harold even admits at one point that he feels more at home in 1895 London than in the modern city.

That all Sherlockians are romantics is elementary. It’s Moore’s aplomb at tapping into their desire to seek a puzzle’s solution, with the perfect quotation ever at the ready, that makes this tale such an engaging fusion of history and mystery. Maybe not the great game but a fun one.

Open Book: My copy of  The Sherlockian by Graham Moore (Twelve/Hachette Book Group) was a gift from Santa. I rather think that my first copies of the Sherlock Holmes adventures were, too, and read by flashlight under the covers. Or maybe I got them for my birthday.

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It’s peach sesaon, and I’m in heaven. Peaches morning, noon and night. Carolina peaches, Georgia peaches, even California peaches when I can’t get the others. Do I dare to eat a peach — even if it looks as if it may be a little green? You betcha. Thankfully, the juice runs down my chin. Perfect.

The peaches in the painting on the cover of Allegra Goodman’s new novel, The Cookbook Collector, look lovely, all ripe and ready. I probably would have bought the hardback for the cover alone, except I was on the road and downloaded a sample for the nook. A few delicious pages into this tale of two sisters navigating the dot.com world of the late ’90s, and I knew I wanted  more. So I clicked the “buy” button. Instant gratification.

This is what both pleases and annoys me about e-books. It’s great to sit in a hotel room at night, order a sample from B&N.com, and then satisfy my literary cravings. But all I have of that gorgeous cover is a color thumbnail. Because, yes, sometimes  — ok, many times — I’ve prejudged a book by its cover while browsing in a store and then bought the book, especially if it’s by an author I don’t know. Most recently, Danielle Ganek’s The Summer We Read Gatsby. Great cover, and the book was good enough that I don’t regret my decision. Sometimes I get snookered — the “Twilight” series, for instance, with its masterful marketing — but then I pass on the offending volumes. My trash will be someone else’s treasure.

Coincidentally, the same evening I started The Cookbook Collector, I also caught a rerun of Bravo’s “Work of Art: The Next Great Artist,” the episode in which contestants were challenged to design a cover for a Penguin classics title. The winner would see his or her cover on the real book in stores. Very interesting. Obviously, several artists were not readers. One poor dear admitted she’d never read Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice but still thought she she knew all about Jane and “Darby.” In the end, her watercolor based on a semi-nude photo of herself was embarassingly bad (although not the disaster of another contestant), and it didn’t help that her book was by Jane “Austin.”

Several other artists put their high concepts of “art” above the books’ contents, i.e. , the “disaster.” But kudos to Tom, who took the time to read all of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein before starting his project. The eventual winner (spoiler alert) was John, for H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine. Love the little ladder. And Mark’s striking cover for Bram Stoker’s Dracula was a well-deserved second. I’d buy both books — and I already have copies, just with different covers.

When it comes to books and peaches, I’m incorrigible.

Open Book: As noted, I bought the e-book of The Cookbook Collector (Random House Publishing Group) and the hardcover of The Summer We Read Gatsby (Penguin). I need to restock on peaches.

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