Dracula Cha Cha Cha

As we march into this new year, I’ve been continuing my exploration of vampire novels and movies while working on my novel Ordeal of the Scarlet Order. Today, I’m taking a look at Dracula Cha Cha Cha, which is the third novel in Kim Newman’s Anno Dracula series. Originally released as Judgment of Tears, this novel is set in 1959 Rome where Dracula is planning a high profile wedding. Vampire reporter Kate Reed, who has appeared in many of the other Anno Dracula novels, has traveled to Rome to report on the event. She’s immediately swept into the entourage of an elder vampire and his “niece,” an actress named Malenka. In recent weeks, a mysterious figure known as the Crimson Avenger has been murdering vampires and sure enough he strikes at the end of Kate’s first night in Rome. The Crimson Avenger kills the elder vampire and Malenka. Kate is the only witness and she hopes to solve the mystery.

Kate is also in town to say farewell to her human friend, Charles Beauregard, who is being tended through his last days by the vampire elder Geneviève Dieudonné. Geneviève gets swept into the mystery along with Kate. It also turns out that a British spy called Bond is on the trail of the Crimson Avenger. I was especially amused that Newman notes that Danny Dravot of both his earlier novels and Rudyard Kipling’s novella The Man Who Would be King is the one who turned Bond into a vampire. What’s more, he notes Bond and Dravot bear a superficial resemblance. Movie fans might recall that Sean Connery portrayed Danny Dravot in John Huston’s adaptation of the story as well as his more famous role as James Bond.

Once again, Kim Newman gives us a solid, suspenseful mystery with references to numerous cinematic vampires. In other novels and stories featuring long-lived and immortal characters, a lot is made of these characters outliving people they’ve grown to love. In this novel, Kate, Geneviève, and their vampire acquaintance Penelope Churchward must face the ultimate demise of Charles Beauregard even as the spymaster who has appeared in many of these novels helps them put many of the puzzle piece in place. It helps to ground the novel and give it emotional weight I’ve found lacking in some of those other stories.

The Titan Books edition of Dracula Cha Cha Cha also includes a novella set in 1968 called Aquarius. Again, Kate Reed is involved in a murder mystery. In 1960s Britain, vampires and humans have learned to coexist, so it comes as a shock when a human girl is drained dry by a vampire. Kate soon uncovers clues that point to a nearby university which admits both human and vampire students. Again, it’s a solid mystery and well resolved.

In addition to the two stories, Newman walks us through many of his cinematic influences. This is a nice feature, since it gives me some new movies to seek out.

I was amused that in the lead-up to Dracula’s wedding, many of the characters were dancing to a song called the “Dracula Cha Cha.” As I read the book, I thought Kim Newman had made it up. It turns out it’s a real song recorded by Bruno Martino in 1959 and you can find numerous cover versions of the song. I definitely need to add the song to my vampire song playlist.

Clearly, I would recommend Dracula Cha Cha Cha to vampire fans who like a good mystery. If you’d also like to get ready for my forthcoming novel, you can learn about the Scarlet Order vampire novels at: http://davidleesummers.com/books.html#scarlet_order

One Thousand Monsters

This new year finds me about halfway through the first draft of my vampire novel Ordeal of the Scarlet Order. When I’m not writing, I’m often reading and one of the books I recently enjoyed is Anno Dracula: One Thousand Monsters by Kim Newman. I’ve read and discussed two of the books in this series already—three if you count Kim Newman’s graphic novel set in the same world. In this case, I technically skipped ahead to book 5 of the series because I wanted to return to the nineteenth century and continue the story of Geneviève Dieudonné before continuing to march through the twentieth century with Newman’s own vampires.

If I hadn’t already become a fan of Kim Newman’s work from Anno Dracula, this novel would have won me over by opening with a quote by Lafcadio Hearn. Hearn’s essays and collections have long been an influence on me and I even paid tribute to him by making him a character in my novel Owl Riders. Among the works Hearn collected are spooky and strange folktales from Japan. Stories from his collection Kwaidan were even filmed for a movie of the same name. One of the truly memorable stories from that collection features the snow maiden, or Yuki-Onna, a phantom-like figure of cold winter nights who lures men to their deaths. Yuki-Onna looms large in One Thousand Monsters.

The world of Anno Dracula assumes that Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula was largely a factual account until the end. Instead of Professor Van Helsing leading a pursuit of the good count through the Carpathians, Dracula eludes his pursuers and marries Queen Victoria, becoming the prince regent and bringing vampires out into the open. In the aftermath of the struggle against Dracula’s corruption, a handful of vampires including Geneviève Dieudonné are exiled from Great Britain and travel to Japan. They settle in Yokai Town, a district of Tokyo set aside for Japan’s own vampires. Newman dives extensively into Asian vampire lore to populate Yokai Town with a wide variety of strange, frightening, tragic, and even sometimes humorous vampires. As the British vampires attempt to settle in, they find the district is under the watchful eye of Lieutenant Majin, who runs the district like a prison. What’s more, sinister things are afoot as vampires make plots in the shadows.

In addition to Geneviève Dieudonné, we get to know several interesting vampires from both European and Asian stories and movies. Leading the European vampire contingent is Princess Casamassina, a vampire who can literally become light. Two soldiers, Danny Dravot and Kostaki work with Geneviève to unravel the mysteries of Yokai Town. Fans of Rudyard Kipling will recognize Dravot from the story “The Man Who Would be King.” There’s even a sailor named Popejoy, who bears an uncanny resemblance to the sailor of Elzie Segar’s comic strip. Among the Asian vampires are a Chinese jiang shi, the cat-like bakeneko, and a child-vampire who controls creepy puppets. There’s even a brief reference to Dance in the Vampire Bund.

All in all, Anno Dracula: One Thousand Monsters was a great romp. We got to know some familiar characters better and were introduced to some new characters. Newman deftly juggles the many types of vampires from world lore and draws us in to believe they’re all part of one big shared universe. Not only does the book start with a quote by Lafcadio Hearn, but Hearn makes a cameo appearance at the end of the novel. There aren’t many series that I feel compelled to read every book, but the more I read, the more I want the next Anno Dracula in line.

I introduce Lafcadio Hearn in my novel Owl Riders. Although it’s not a vampire novel like One Thousand Monsters, I debuted the book at Boutique du Vampyre in New Orleans, in part because the store sits on the site where Ramon and Fatemeh live in the novel. What’s more the Scarlet Order vampires have a way of weaving in and out of the Clockwork Legion stories. In Ordeal of the Scarlet Order, I have a scene where the vampire Desmond Drake is in New Orleans and finds himself at the house where Lafcadio Hearn lived. You can learn about Owl Riders and all my novels at http://www.davidleesummers.com

The Bloody Red Baron

The Bloody Red Baron

I enjoyed Kim Newman’s novel Anno Dracula and his related graphic novel 1895: Seven Days in Mayhem enough that I decided to continue to his next novel in the Anno Dracula series, The Bloody Red Baron. As one might expect from the title and the cover, this novel is set in World War I and focuses on the conflict between Allied and German pilots, in particular Baron Manfred von Richthofen. That said, the cover of the Titan Books edition is a little deceptive because Richthofen doesn’t fly his famous Fokker triplane. Instead, he’s a vampire who’s been the subject of medical experimentation and literally can transform into a deadly flying weapon. Meanwhile, Edgar Allan Poe, who long ago became a vampire and immigrated to Europe has been sent to write Richthofen’s biography to inspire the German forces. Those same German forces are now under the command of Count Dracula, who has found a position in the Kaiser’s court after being deposed from the rule of Great Britain.

On the allied side, we follow the adventures of Edwin Winthrop, a protégé of Charles Beauregard, one of the protagonists of Anno Dracula. Winthrop goes on a aerial reconnaissance mission and is shot down by the Red Baron. As he fights to return to allied territory, he drinks some vampire blood to survive his wounds and gains some vampire strength. He then signs up as a fighter pilot with a personal mission to get his vengeance on Richthofen. In the meantime, vampire reporter Kate Reed is trying to learn about the allied pilots and finds herself entangled in the story’s events. The novel ends in a great climactic battle which involves biplanes, monstrous German flying aces, and airships. Dracula even shows up and tries to bring some medieval battle tactics into World War I.

I enjoyed the novel, but it never quite drew me in the same way as Anno Dracula did. That said, the Titan Books edition features a nice bonus. It also includes a novella called 1923: Vampire Romance. In this story, Edwin Winthrop recruits Genevieve Dieudonné from Anno Dracula to infiltrate a gathering of high-ranking vampires who have assembled to determine who will be the next vampire leader of Europe. Among the claimants to the title are the head of Hammer Films Seven Golden Vampires, Carmilla Karnstein’s long lost brother, and a nasty hunchbacked vampire. In the middle of it all is a young lady who wants to become a vampire and is smitten by Carmilla’s brother. The whole thing both sends up the vampire romance genre and plays tribute to an Agatha Christie locked-room mystery. To me, this seemed a much stronger successor to Anno Dracula.

The Titan Books edition of The Bloody Red Baron also includes annotations by Kim Newman detailing some of his influences, inspirations and references. A final bonus is a film treatment he wrote for Roger Corman loosely based on the ideas presented in The Bloody Red Baron. All in all, I had fun with Newman’s continuation of the Anno Dracula series and I’m interested in reading more in due course.

In the meantime, you can learn more about my vampire novels by visiting http://www.davidleesummers.com/books.html#scarlet_order

Anno Dracula – The Comic!

Soon after reading Kim Newman’s novel, Anno Dracula, I took a closer look at the other books he’s written in this universe. As it turns out, the second story in chronological order was told over the course of a five-issue comic book series from Titan Comics. The five issues have since been collected into a single graphic novel, Anno Dracula -1895: Seven Days in Mayhem. The comic series, released in 2017, was written by Newman and features art by Paul McCaffrey.

The vampire Jane considers Kim Newman’s vampires from Anno Dracula

The comic series is set seven years after the novel. Dracula is still in power, but he’s under siege. European powers have united to overthrow him and groups within the British Empire comprised of both humans and vampires are working to establish a government more to their liking. Still, it’s the tenth anniversary of Dracula’s rise to power and he plans to throw a celebration. Our story’s principal characters are Kate Reed, a vampire journalist who belongs to a group of anarchists bound and determined to disrupt the ten-year celebration, and Penelope Churchward, a vampire socialite who has been placed in charge of the ten-year celebration. Both Kate and Penelope were secondary characters in the original novel.

In the background lurk such notable characters as Graf Orlock, in charge of the Tower of London, where the ten-year festivities will conclude, and Fu Manchu who is playing all sides against each other in hopes to make the biggest profit. I was delighted to see a cameo by Mack the Knife and a brief mention of Mycroft Holmes, who played a major role in the novel. There’s even a sly reference to problematic “sparkling vampires.” Perhaps my favorite moment was the appearance of a poem that might have been written by William McGonagall on the occasion of ten years of rule by Dracula. I was first introduced to McGonagall’s poetry at TusCon a few years ago when Laurence Hammer brought a collection of his poems to share. McGonagall was widely recognized as a terrible poet who had no recognition of his peers’ opinion of his work. Follow the link if you wish to read his poem “The Tay Bridge Disaster.”

Paul McCaffrey’s artwork in this comic series is first rate. I loved his portrayals of Newman’s original characters, fictional characters from other worlds, and historical figures. Overall, Newman’s script is well done. I did find some of the narration hard to read because it was in a very small font size. I have to admit, this is one reason why I’ve come to appreciate digital comics. Of course, a real challenge of comics is to say as much as possible in as few words as possible. For the most part, I think Newman succeeded at that, but I did wonder if some of the narrations could have been trimmed. I also wondered if using one larger point size on the narration would have helped.

As with Anno Dracula, I highly recommend this comic to fans of the genre. Like Kim Newman, I enjoy playing with vampire tropes and lore in my stories. As I mentioned in my last post, I’m starting work on a third Scarlet Order novel and hoping to do at least one more Scarlet Order comic. You can learn about the books at http://davidleesummers.com/books.html#scarlet_order. If you’d like to get some sneak peeks at the new book as it develops, or if you just like this blog and appreciate its ad-free experience, please consider supporting my Patreon at: https://www.patreon.com/davidleesummers

Anno Dracula

In the past few weeks I’ve been working on an outline for a new Scarlet Order Vampire novel. Back when I first wrote Vampires of the Scarlet Order in 2004, I’d written four synopses for novels in the series. I started the prequel, Dragon’s Fall almost right away in 2005 as a NaNoWriMo project. I set the novel aside for a time, but finally published it in 2012. Recently, I was prompted to think about the series again as I brought out new editions of the novels in 2020. Also, around that time, Boutique du Vampyre in New Orleans selected Vampires of the Scarlet Order for their book club. Both events reminded me how much fun I had with these characters and I went back to look at those synopses from eighteen years ago. Of the three remaining synopses, two would be historical novels and the third was a sequel. The sequel interested me most. Re-reading the synopsis, I thought there was a lot of potential to further explore concepts I’d developed in Vampires of the Scarlet Order. Not all the ideas in that synopsis grabbed me, but I started playing with the plot, jotting ideas down and just about 4000 words later, I have a detailed outline that I’m chewing on and probably will pursue in the coming months.

The Vampire Marcella peeks out from the pages of Anno Dracula

Looking for a little thematic inspiration, I decided to browse my to-read stack for a vampire book I hadn’t read before. One of those books was Kim Newman’s Anno Dracula which I’d purchased on the strength of Kurt MacPhearson’s review from a 2011 issue of Tales of the Talisman Magazine. At long last it was time to give it a try.

Anno Dracula is set in 1888. It imagines that Dracula did not die at the end of Bram Stoker’s famous novel, but killed Abraham Van Helsing and went on to marry Queen Victoria and become Prince Consort of Britain. Once done, vampires become an accepted part of society and are seen almost everywhere. The story is set up like an episode of Columbo. The book opens with one of the Jack the Ripper murders and Jack’s identity is revealed right at the start. The twists are that this Jack only murders vampires and he’s a character from Dracula. From there, we meet Charles Beauregard, an agent for the Diogenes Club. Fans of Sherlock Holmes will recognize this esteemed establishment as the home of the power behind the British government. Among the club’s most esteemed members is Sherlock Holmes’ older brother Mycroft, who assigns Beauregard the task of solving the Ripper murders. At the heart of Whitechapel, near the scene of the crimes is a vampire named Geneviève who has set out to help the poor and destitute of the district. We soon learn she’s a truly ancient vampire with powers to rival Dracula’s.

The novel reminded me of a vampire-centric League of Extraordinary Gentlemen with a mix of historical personages and characters related to just about every Victorian-set vampire novel or movie you can think of. Among the notable characters in the novel are Lord Ruthven, Florence Stoker, Frances Varney, and Doctor Jeckyll. Count Orloff, from Murnau’s Nosferatu is a creepy, silent jailkeeper. Dracula himself only actually appears in the novel’s last chapter. For the rest of the novel, his shadow just looms over everything that happens. One of my favorite character cameos happens near the end of the novel when Beauregard encounters an armadillo in Buckingham Palace, a clear nod to Tod Browning’s 1931 Dracula.

All in all, I had a lot of fun reading Anno Dracula and I might well seek out some of the other stories and novels in the series. It’s clear Kim Newman is a fan of many of the same books I am.

I know some authors who avoid reading books in genres they’re working on to avoid being unduly influenced. However, when I’ve done my job as a writer and fleshed out my characters and have a good idea of what they’re going to do in their story, I find I’m not tempted to lift anything from another writer’s work. What I do pay attention to are those moments where I emotionally connect to the story. What makes me sad? What makes me laugh out loud? What makes me say “Cool!” After reading Anno Dracula, I did go back to my outline and asked, were there moments where I could do more of that? Are there moments where I could be more effective and make better connections with my readers? I did weave in a new plot thread as a result of asking those kinds of questions. And, I suspect I’ll find even more connections as I begin the actual writing process.

In the meantime, if you want to delve into the world of the Scarlet Order Vampires, click the links below to learn more about the books in the series.