by Newman, Kim
What's the best way to approach Newman's brilliant new addition to his reinvention of the Dracula myth? Is it to expect an eccentrically plotted, flesh-tingling horror tale with some stunningly orchestrated (and grisly) set pieces? Or is it look for a highly intelligent, post-modern riff on the vampire concept, stuffed full of clever and witty references to both real-life and fictional characters? Actually, it's both. Since the groundbreaking Anno Dracula, Newman has not been content to turn out merely efficient and atmospheric thrillers (although he can do that as effortlessly as anyone in the genre); clearly what excites him is to extrapolate elements of an over-familiar genre into a richly textured picture of a society: Victorian England in Anno Dracula, and a fascinatingly realised Rome in the late 1950s in this latest book. Into this world of La Dolce Vita, paparazzi and coins in fountains, Newman injects his highly individual spin on a society in which vampirism is endemic. The jet setters, intellectuals and vampires of the Eternal City are talking about the forthcoming marriage of Count Dracula (in Italian exile from Transylvania) to the Moldavian Princess Asa Vajda. Some speculate that this is the first step in Dracula's master plan: to reassert his supremacy as Lord of the Undead. But this is essentially a backdrop to Newman's real story--an implacable, terrifying and enigmatic figure known as the Crimson Executioner is bloodily dispatching vampires in the city. Coming closer and closer to some grim revelations is Newman's insecure journalist heroine Kate, but the masterstroke here is the involvement of undead British secret agent Bond. However, this isn't quite Ian Fleming's sardonic character: and the other literary characters finding themselves involved in the operatic blood-letting include Patricia Highsmith's Tom Ripley, among many others. The brilliance and wit with which Newman reinvents these characters and incorporates them into his own outrageous narrative will probably make it difficult to ever see them in the same light again. But never do these mordantly funny reinventions overwhelm the inexorable progress of the plot, and Kate, struggling with her own vampirism, is a heroine as richly characterised as any in mainstream fiction. And when it comes to delivering the goods in terms of the gruesome, Newman has few equals:
Something she'd never seen before happened to Malenka. Pockets of blubber bulged under Malenka's skin, inflating her face, her belly, her thighs, her torso, her arms. She ballooned, splitting like overcooked sausage. White stuff, veined with red, bubbled out of her rent skin. Her dress exploded.--Barry Forshaw
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