Welcome, ladies, gentlemen and fellow horror lovers, to this month’s Carry on Screaming post. Each month I’ll be reviewing a vintage British horror novels and reflecting on what was happening in both the horror genre and the news in the UK at the time. You can read previous posts in the series by clicking on the ‘Carry on Screaming‘ category.
It is 1888 and Queen Victoria has remarried, taking as her new consort Vlad Tepes, the Wallachian Prince infamously known as Count Dracula. Peppered with familiar characters from Victorian history and fiction, the novel follows vampire Geneviève Dieudonné and Charles Beauregard of the Diogenes Club as they strive to solve the mystery of the Ripper murders.
Title: Anno Dracula | Author: Kim Newman | Publisher: Pocket Books | Pub. Year: 1992 | Pages: 469 | Genre: Horror | Language: English | Source: Self-purchased | Starred Review: Yes
I first read ‘Anno Dracula’ when it was published in the early 90s. Aside from reading horror fiction I was really into film criticism (in fact in 1992 I went to university to study Media Studies) and I’d read and thoroughly enjoyed Kim Newman’s excellent history of the modern horror film, ‘Nightmare Movies’. Newman also wrote for a couple of magazines I read (‘Empire’ and ‘Sight and Sound’) and appeared on breakfast TV. He cuts a distinctive figure, with a penchant for capes and Victorian style facial hair that makes him look a bit like an extra from a Hammer Horror film. His fashion sense may in part be due to his lifelong obsession with Dracula. It’s no surprise then that his most popular work as a novelist has been ‘Anno Dracula’ and its sequels. Those sequels, incidentally, gave fantastic titles like ‘The Bloody Red Baron’ and ‘Dracula Cha Cha Cha’.
The book is a sequel to Bram Stoker’s novel, albeit a version of that book where Dracula defeats his foes in England and goes on to marry the widowed Queen Victoria. London is now populated by vampires as well as humans, the two living side by side in relative harmony. That peace is disrupted by the arrival of Jack the Ripper, albeit in Newman’s universe the killer preys on prostitutes who also happen to be members of the undead.
That setup allows Newman to have a lot of fun and he uses it to tell a good old-fashioned ripping yarn and populate it with a cast of famous characters, both real and fictional. Sherlock Holmes, Dr Jekyll, Oscar Wilde, Dr Moreau and more appear, along with characters from Stoker’s novel. Most memorable of all though is Genevieve – a stylish and kick ass French vampire. Newman indulges his love of victoriana and cinema, with chapter titles often taken from films. His take on vampirism is great and he creates a believable hybrid society where the poor are exploited for their blood as well as their labour.
It all makes for a very enjoyable book. It’s thrilling, funny and imaginative and, unlike many of the books I’ve reviewed for Carry on Screaming, it has stood the test of time very well. I didn’t love it quite as much as I did first time around, but it’s still a great read.
I’m adopting a slightly different rating system for my Carry on Screaming review, because, let’s face it, vintage horror novels are about more than just the quality of the actual book.
Book: 4 out of 5
Cover: 4 out of 5 – It isn’t as much gaudy fun as some of the books I’ve reviewed here, but it is effective and well executed
Nastiness: 3 out of 5 – a bit lacking in gore, although some of the detail of vampire life is gruesomely effective
Sauciness: 2 out of 5 – Any sex is covered with a good taste and discretion Queen Victoria Would have approved of
Cover promise vs delivery: 3 out of 5 – I’m not sure the cover of my paperback captures the fun of the book. The latest Titan Books edition (which I’ve pictured above) does a better job
Overall Carry on Screaming rating: 16/25
What else happened in 1992?
It wasn’t the most dramatic year for news. The Conservative government under John Major was re-elected, leading to the resignation of Neil Kinnock as Labour leader and the election of John Smith in his place. It was a year that also saw a Tory rebellion over over the Maastricht treaty and the withdrawal of Sterling from the European Exchange Rate Mechanism.
Appropriately, it was the year that Coppola’s Dracula movie was released, as well as the ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ movie and John Landis’ ‘Innocent Blood’. More successful was ‘Candyman’, but there were also a load of sub-par sequels (‘Pet Sematary 2’, ‘Hellraiser III’, ‘Alien 3‘).
It wasn’t a great year for books either. King released ‘Gerald’s Game’ and Herbert published ‘Portent’ (neither of them at the top of their game), ‘Lost Souls’ by Poppy Z Brite came out with lots of blurbs proclaiming a new horror star, but that early promise never really developed.
Next up, a book that is trailed in the acknowledgements at the end of ‘Anno Dracula’ (“Anne Billson – coming soon: her vampire novel”)