By Kim Newman
Growing up reading Empire magazine, I was aware of Kim Newman as a film critic and journalist, usually reviewing the genre end of cinema and writing articles about movie monsters or fantasy. He is now a contributing editor, still reviewing, and has his own page of Direct To DVD reviews. What I didn't know until relatively recently was that he was also a novelist. When I discovered the idea behind his most famous (although still cult) novel, I HAD to read it: what if Dracula didn't die at the end of his book and became the prince consort of Queen Victoria?
The book would be of interest just on the high concept alone. However, Newman goes further by using the Wold Newton approach to the story: the book contains characters (and real people) from other books of the time, as well as other literary vampires. The sheer number of characters present require an annotation (Newman provides this here) – characters from the Dracula novel appear but there are also Sherlock Holmes supporting characters, Dr Jekyll, Dr Moreau, AJ Raffles, Fu-Manchu, Sikes (from Oliver Twist) and Griffin the Invisible Man all appear to various degrees, not to mention characters from TV and film. This adds the fun 'spot-the-reference' game for those in the know, but it doesn't distract from the story, and everyone is used in an appropriate manner (there is even mention of John Reid, the Lone Ranger, which is very impressive).
For me, the mark of genius and the basis for the narrative thrust of the novel is having the murder of prostitutes in the Whitechapel area of London who becomes known as Jack the Ripper, including letters signed 'From Hell'. The twist? The man is murdering vampire prostitutes with a silver knife. That makes me happy just typing it. In an England where vampires are now commonplace and in positions of power and authority, and the fashionable set turning, the murder of vampires is a bad thing. Therefore, they must be investigated – this is done by two original characters of Newman: Charles Beauregard, an agent of the Diogenes Club (from Sherlock Holmes), and Geneviève Dieudonné, a vampire over 450 years old although turned at the age of 16 in France by Chandagnac (to distinguish her from the Dracula lineage). This allows for an organic manner in which to meet all the various characters and to explain more of this alternate world.
This is a very enjoyable story, told in a straightforward fashion; there are some strange chapters, told from a strange viewpoint (like one chapter about a vampire prostitute who is pretending to be the dead love of her man, who is the Ripper), and some of the politics can a little dry occasionally, but these are only minor qualms – this is an engrossing story, with two interesting central characters, a fully realised world and a great ending. Like Alan Moore's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, which uses fictional characters from different stories to create an interesting narrative in its own right, Newman has created a fascinating world that demands further stories in it. This book is the first in a series, including other novels and short stories, and I can't wait to get my hands on them. For more information, you can go to Kim Newman's own website (he explains the background to the book here), and hope that he gets round to finishing off the fourth book, Johnny Alucard (as promised in this interview).