Book review: Johnny Alucard, By Kim Newman

 

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Kim Newman's continuing series of outrageously inventive vampire novels (collectively known as Anno Dracula) has been the sheer prodigality of ideas.

The first book, which gave the sequence its title, is now widely regarded as a key fantasy novel (with its sanguinary central character marrying Queen Victoria, no less), sporting both caustic wit and a clever postmodern structure. It predated the current popular obsession with vampires.

Apart from anything else, Newman demonstrated just how fecund Bram Stoker's original novel was for playful reinvention – with far more hidden corners to be uncovered than even Hammer Films found in its exhumations of the undead Count.

All of these elements are present in the latest addition to the series, with a time period of 1976 to 1991: Johnny Alucard. The author's vampire reporter, Kate Reed, is on the set of Francis Ford Coppola's revisionist film, Bram Stoker's Dracula. She comes into contact with John Popescu, a young vampire who travels from Transylvania to America and falls in with the louche set surrounding Andy Warhol.

He assumes a new identity, Johnny Pop, and formulates a drug that imbues its users with the abilities of vampires. Newman's secondary career – as a respected film journalist – ensures that this latest entry is freighted with the knowledge of films and film-makers which incorporates a pithy verisimilitude into the bizarre scenario.

Newman's often surrealist multiverse brings together a dizzying variety of ingredients. There is a stress on lovingly rendered vintage elements, referenced in a series of genre pastiches. However, "pastiche" does not do justice to Newman's achievement, implying as it does an element of parody.

His encyclopaedic knowledge of British fictional protagonists in their literary, cinematic and televisual incarnations always celebrates, as opposed to guying, his subjects. His particular speciality is the reinvention of durable literary characters (drawn from Conan Doyle, Haggard, Fleming, Stoker et al) and their insertion into fantastic narratives.

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