Dracula Cha Cha Cha by Kim Newman
Originally published 1995. Revised edition published by Titan Books, October 2012. Review copy received.
ISBN: 978 0857 680853
Review by Mark Yon
With Book Three of the Anno Dracula series we reach the late 1950’s and 1960’s. A time of European opulence and Mediterranean glamour, epic film making and spy thrillers such as Ian Fleming’s James Bond and Len Deighton’s Harry Palmer. Not to mention vampires.
Old Vlad (Count Dracula) is still around and at the start of the book due to marry again – this time to Asa Vajda, Princess of Moldova. Kate Reed, vampyrric super-reporter and erstwhile secret-agent for the mysterious Diogenes Club, is in Rome to meet old friend Charles Beauregarde, now-dying ‘warm blood’ and his vampire lover Genevieve Dieudonne as well as cover this select event.
On her arrival Kate soon ends up in trouble. First, she meets an old adversary, Penelope Churchward, an old friend turned vampire, now one of Vlad’s assistants. Secondly, whilst as a guest of Count Kernassy, and his young-looking lover Malenka, rising vampire starlet, Kate finds herself witness to their gruesome deaths. These are not the only fatalities. It seems that the city is in a state of alarm. Whilst preparations for the world-class event are in hand for the un-dead wedding of the century, the mysterious Crimson Executioner is about, messily executing vampire elders. Kate finds herself trying to discover why, whilst Genevieve, with the help of un-dead superspy, Hamish Bond, finds herself up against Russian spies, assassination attempts and her old nemesis, Vlad, and his assistant Penny.
I enjoyed this one a lot. Like before, it’s that sense of time and place that really works for me in the impeccably imagined world of 1960’s Italy, albeit with added vampires. Thoughts of Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier of Monaco, Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck, warm weather, sunglasses, espresso and motor-scooters infuse this tale throughout. Whilst I’m not quite sure that the vampires appreciate the sunshine as much as us mere warm-bloods, (actually something Kim does deal with in the novel!) it’s a nice change from Victorian England and the battlefields of France that we’ve encountered in the previous books. The 1960’s are cool and this is engagingly retro-cool.
The writing is as lively as ever, the culture references throughout. You don’t have to have read the earlier books to get a gist of what’s going on but I found I did enjoy reading about characters met before and what happens to them here. It is a tale of three women and how events have led to this. It is also a book with a great deal of closure. Originally the last book in the series, there are major developments here, with the death of some key characters and the consequences of those deaths clearly impacting upon the others. This highlights the need to move on and to change, in a world that was rapidly changing anyway. The point is made that the elder vampires are finding this faster, brighter world with global media coverage difficult to live in.
Of course, one example of this change in the 1960’s, go-faster, live faster world, is the arrival of ‘the superspy’, whose approach to espionage is very different to that previously encountered from the Diogenes Club. The epitome of this is the debut of Bond – Hamish Bond – to this tale. He is looked upon with serious disdain by the elder vampires such as Genevieve, as the personification of this ‘act first, think later’ approach. Whilst Bond is working for the Diogenes Club, like Kate and Genevieve, it is quite clear that Bond’s world is different from the Victorian world of Kate and the older Genevieve.
But of course Bond is not the only reference to other metafiction. Others I found were references to The Exorcist, Michael Moorcock and many others. In addition, the use of real people such as Orson Welles, Arthur C. Clarke and Tony Hancock help create a realistic feel to the world that is an alternative to ours.
This world building is carefully crafted. Not only does Kim show this vampire-dominated world with humour – privileged airline passengers are offered white mice as part of their ‘in-flight meal’ and other small mammals as an entree at Dracula’s Engagement Ball – but examines the wider implications of a world run by vampires: the Roman Catholic view of vampires in their Holy City, the difficulties of vampires involved in the Cold War negotiations, and so on. It’s a writer with confidence in his created world, writing with skill.
Strangely, one of things that works well (again) is that, despite the series being entitled ‘Anno Dracula’, the titular Count appears very little. Though his presence is always there, and his importance to the tale undeniable, our focus is really upon all those around him, and in particular Kate, Genevieve and Penny who each create a different perspective to the events herein.
This new edition from Titan, like all the previous releases, has an added bonus: a novella of Aquarius, set in 1968. As the title may suggest, the story about vampire murder, set at a time of upheaval at the dawning of The Age of Aquarius. From the other end of the 1960’s decade, it is all flower-power, drugs, swinging London and social revolution – and ‘Drakky-bashing’. It’s an engagingly written tale, not only being a murder case but also a summary of the zeitgeist of that time mixed with Kim’s usual cultural links. I enjoyed the link to Christopher Fowler’s Bryant and May, nosing around the case.
With Dracula Cha Cha Cha we bring to an end the re-release of the Anno Dracula books. The fourth, Johnny Alucard, is due in April 2013. This moves us towards the next decade, allegedly set in the 1970’s.
Mark Yon, October 2012