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Anno Dracula by Kim Newman (Titan Books, 2011) was first published in 1992 and then again in 2011. Perhaps the true progenitor of such literary mash-ups as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (a frankly inferior work), Anno Dracula places vampires in late-Victorian era London, with a flair for intertexts and allusions that spices up the narrative and adds plenty of Easter eggs for the keen-eyed reader.
In Anno Dracula, Queen Victoria has married Vlad Tepes (Dracula), and as a result, vampires have become commonplace in 19th-century London. Meanwhile, a murderer named Silver Knife (AKA Jack the Ripper) is murdering vampire prostitutes with a silver scalpel. This threatens to destabilise an already turbulent society where the undead and ‘warms’ are still negotiating the terms of their coexistence.
Enter Charles Beauregard, a member of the Diogenese Club, who has been tasked with finding and stopping the murderer by a cabal of crime lords (including Professor Moriarty of the Sherlock Holmes stories). He is joined by elder vampire Geneviève Dieudonné, who currently works at Toynbee Hall caring for sick vampires, and is the real star of the show.
Kim Newman is a fantastic writer. His prose is electric and smart – and wipes the floor with most of his contemporaries writing vampire fiction. What is especially delicious about Newman’s work, though, is his love of popular and classical culture.
Anno Dracula is full of characters from literature, film and TV, as well as history – so that figures like Jack the Ripper rub shoulders (pages?) with Lord Ruthven and Varney the Vampire, or Fu Manchu and the Lone Ranger. Sequels feature Francis Ford Coppola, a vampire Winston Churchill and Andy Warhol.
The world built by Newman is thoroughly detailed, offering a very plausible alternate reality and a compelling vampire mythos. It is by turns funny, clever and critical of our fanciful obsession with Byronic antiheroes, and it offers a world of vampires and humans living together that precedes True Blood/The Southern Vampire Mysteries by almost a decade.
Without ruining the plot, the reader knows from the first page who Jack the Ripper is. But the real mystery is why Beauregard and Geneviève are being involved in the search for the killer at all – and why their mysterious benefactors appear to be helping them out along the way.
I’ve just picked up the sequel – set during World War I – called The Bloody Red Baron, and look forward to the remaining instalments in the series (Dracula Cha Cha Cha and Johnny Alucard). Apparently there could be a film in the works, but you know how these things go. As for the book, though, I would absolutely recommend it.