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Carry on Screaming – Supping with Panthers by Tom Holland (1996) #BookReview

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.

Dr. John Eliot’s search for a missing friend leads him to the seductive Lilah–who will not rest until she has coaxed Eliot’s most monstrous impulses out into the open–in this mesmerizing tale set in the back streets of 19th-century London.

Title: Supping with Panthers | Author: Simon Tom Holland | Publisher: Warner Books | Pub. Year: 1996 | Pages: 502 | Genre: Horror | Language: English | Source: Self-purchased | Starred Review: Yes

It’s striking that in my reviews covering the 1970s and 1980s, I only featured one vampire novel (‘Necroscope’) and yet this is the fourth I’ve written about for the 1990s. I’m not sure if the release of the movie ‘Bram Stoker’s Dracula’ in 1992 was a symptom or a cause of the love of vampirism in the 1990s, but it definitely feels like it was a thing. The decade also saw the ‘Interview with the Vampire’ film, as well as the ‘Blade’, ‘From Dusk til Dawn’, ‘Innocent Blood’ and ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ (movie and TV show).

Tom Holland’s ‘Supping with Panthers’ is probably my least favourite of the four bloodsucking books I’ve featured for the decade. On paper it’s very similar to Kim Newman’s ‘Anno Dracula’ – a Victorian era supernatural thriller with an all star case. Holland uses Bram Stoker as one of his heroes, and throws in Jack the Ripper, Lord Byron and Oscar Wilde for good measure. It also introduces Indian vampires, and starts with a very enjoyable bit of adventuring in the British Raj.

Like ‘Dracula’ its told through diary entries and letters, that Indian opening being taken from the memoirs of a British officer. After that, the action moves to London, tracking the scientific experiments of Dr John Eliot, who is investigating a disease of the blood. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what that disease is, but Holland does a good job of coming up with a plausible medical explanation for vampirism. Unfortunately, I didn’t find the rest of ‘Supping with Panthers’ quite as enjoyable or convincing.

It’s not a bad book, but it lacks the wit and inventiveness Newman’s take on things. There’s a lot of mystery and a fair amount of bloodshed, but at just over 500 pages it feels too long. Often I felt a bit confused by what was going on, and found myself rushing through it which probably didn’t help. There are individual scenes that were undeniably powerful, but overall

It’s interesting that like the other three books it is set in the past. We British have, I think, a tendency to dwell on our history, especially the parts we collectively agree to have been successful. This felt particularly to be the case in the 1990s, with Britpop’s obsession with the music and icons of the 1960s. Throughout my lifetime, the Second World War is consistently held up as a shining example of our determination and resilience, perhaps with some justification. Far less justified is our fascination with the supposed glory days of the British Empire. ‘Supping with Vampires’ celebrates this era, and does so without casting a critical eye on it. It includes a heroic, resourceful Indian character in the Van Helsing mode, but largely the Indian theme is used to justify a very outdated sense of exoticism. In recent years we have started to accept that the Empire was built on the suffering of indigenous peoples, but this book does nothing to advance that understanding.

It is, however, atmospheric and sometimes memorable. It has some good ideas and interesting characters, it’s just that it bogs them down with too many words and a willingness to accept the propagandised version of the Victorian age that was taught in British schools for far too long. In the end, it’s no more politically savvy than the Hammer Horror films it often resembles. It’s also a lot less fun.


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: 3 out of 5

Cover: 2 out of 5 – Murky and dull

Nastiness: 3 out of 5 – It has its moments, but there is a lot of story to wade through to get to them.

Sauciness: 3 out of 5 – Sexier than ‘Anno Dracula’, but no ‘Vivia’

Cover promise vs delivery: 2 out of 5 – The cover feels entirely generic

Overall Carry on Screaming rating: 13/25

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What else happened in 1996?

This was a year marked mostly by the Dunblane massacre in Scotland. A long gunman killed 16 children, a teacher and himself at a school in Scotland. This was the worst mass shooting in the UK since Hungerford in 1987. Readers in the US take note.

Two royal couples divorced. Andrew and Fergie and Charles and Diana. I couldn’t really care less about the private lives of the royals, but this did definitely mark a turning point in public opinions on the monarchy. More critically for millions of teenage girls, the boy band Take That also split up. As if to fill the void, it was also the year The Spice Girls formed. I was lucky (?) enough to see them perform in the window of Andy’s Records in Cambridge.

Perhaps more importantly, it was the year that Dolly the sheep was successfully cloned, an event that seemed massive at the time, but 24 years later doesn’t seem to have that much of an impact.

There were four notable big budget horror movies this year, which feels like an uptick. ‘Scream’, ‘From Dusk til Dawn’, ‘The Island of Dr Moreau’ and ‘The Frighteners’. I saw the first two at the cinema (‘Scream’ on a pretty disastrous date). Taken together the four make an interesting mix. ‘Moreau’ killed (until last year at least) the career of the excellent Richard Stanley and ‘The Frighteners’ nearly did the same for Peter Jackson. If, like me, you’d much rather watch ‘Bad Taste’ twice back to back than any of his Tolkien films you might wish the wounds had been deeper. Meanwhile ‘Scream’ gave new life to Wes Craven.

It seems to have been a weaker year for horror in books. King pushed out his double bill of ‘The Regulators’ and ‘Desperation’ which always felt to me like a bad double concept album by an ageing prog rock band. The fact that is the most notable publishing event of the year speaks volumes.

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Next up, s standalone from an author best known for his Merrily Watkins series, ‘The Chalice’ by Phil Rickman

Published inCarry on ScreamingHorror Book ReviewsStarred Reviews

One Comment

  1. E.F. Benson’s 1922 “Mrs. Amworth” is another British-Indian tale of what amounts to vampirism.

    Funny you should mention “The Frighteners.” I was just rewatching it a few weeks ago, having originally seen it in one of those depraved passion pits, the drive-in. My date and I ignored the other two movies, but we actually paid attention to “The Frighteners,” which ain’t half-bad. Certainly had more plot to it than the other horror feature on the bill that night, “(Tales From the Crypt Presents) Bordello of Blood.”

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