Tuesday, March 25, 2008

"The Secret Life of Laszlo, Count Dracula" by Roderick Anscombe

What if Dracula wasn't really a vampire? What if he was merely an intensely depraved serial killer? Would he still be as frightening? Would he still be a seductive to women? Would this take do him justice?

Um, no.

Anscombe's book starts with the interesting premise that Dracula was nothing more than an ordinary man with a rather morbid fascination with blood, not only looking at it but eventually tasting it, even drinking it in a fashion. He begins with a very young Laszlo in Paris, where he's studying to be a physician. There he meets various people, including Lothar, a young man interested in Laszlo's cousin Nichole, a fellow tenant at his boarding house, and Stacia, one of the "patients" plagued by "hysteria" at the hospital. Events soon turn dark and ominous when Laszlo begins an affair with Stacia; Lothar comes to him with an offer to buy the prostitute (how she is able to have her own apartment and leave the hospital isn't fully explained, one of the problems of first-person narrative here).

In a fit of rage over Stacia's obvious social-climbing goals, Laszlo kills her by cutting her throat with a broken bottle. This is his first "vampiric" scene - he is compelled to drink from the wound once the blood starts flowing. He is not discovered and has no opportunity for discovery either; he is immediately informed that his brother George has been killed in action and is needed at home for the funeral and to take over the operations of the estate.

Forward about 20 years, which is when Laszlo decides to take up his journal again. He's married to his brother's widow, more out of needs to keep property rights than any sense of love, and he's bored. Yes, the life of a count is, evidently, very dull indeed. Enter the young daughter of the town's mayor who starts working her wiles on Laszlo, and I think you can see where this is going. There are a few more murders, much closer together and the law starts closing in on Laszlo, as well as his own conscience.

Overall, I liked the historical aspects of the book. Anscombe has a good feel for the time period and I did feel as if I was really there. As for the plot, though, well, I found it about as dull as Laszlo must have found his life. There wasn't really any drama for me, even when there should have been close to the end of the book. As for Laszlo himself, I could not for the life of me understand why these girls were interested in him, other than to try to better their social standing in life. He comes across as incredibly needy and whiny, far from the sort of suave and charismatic sort you expect Dracula to be. I would have been more interested in the book, I think, if there'd been even a hint that he was attracted to the blood for the purposes of sustaining his life; keeping a little more with the vampiric theme, you know.

It's not horrible, but it's just not great, either.

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