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Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Hour of the Vampire

Spreading the virtual virus

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In a market saturated with vampire stories, it’s refreshing to hear a new and unique voice in the genre. John Marks, whose prior novels have garnered critical acclaim, has crafted a clever adaptation of Bram Stoker’s immortal Dracula with his latest book, Fangland (Penguin).

The story takes place partly in post-9/11 New York City, where we meet the eclectic crew of “The Hour,” a weekly news broadcast modeled after “60 Minutes.” Here we are introduced to the heroine, Evangeline Harker, an up-and-coming associate producer from Texas who worked her way up the ladder by using her allure and practical nature. Harker is offered an opportunity to travel to Romania to meet an Eastern European crime lord named Ion Torgu. Despite resistance from her new fianc, Robert, and several co-workers, as well as her own fears, Harker sees this as a career-enhancing assignment that she must take.

After arriving in Romania, Harker meets the eclectic Clemmie Spence, a fellow Texan and missionary of sorts. Spence convinces Harker to take her along to the town of Brasov, where she is to meet with Torgu’s associate and set up the “screen test” of the mobster. Harker instead meets Torgu himself at the rendezvous and accompanies him to his “hotel” in the Carpathian Mountains of Transylvania.

Upon their arrival, Harker discovers that she is alone in a remote part of the world—with no one around to help, should it be needed. Torgu’s hotel is a burnt-out relic, and Harker soon realizes her mistake in coming when Torgu starts presenting art objects that represent icons of devastation and horror from places and times past. Torgu imprisons her in his hotel among the Nosferatu with whom she now shares the dwelling, much like Jonathan Harker in Stoker’s tale. Whereas Dracula forced Jonathan to write letters of introduction, Torgu makes Evangeline videotape him. Despite the fact that his image does not show through the camera, he releases an evil litany containing the names of all the places in the world where inhuman acts of torture, horror and devastation have occurred.

Back at “The Hour,” the staff mourns the disappearance of Harker, who is thought to be dead after two months of no communication. The studio soon receives an odd delivery of videotapes with no visible images and no audible sound; however, soon after the tapes arrive, the studio’s recording systems begin to fail and a subliminal voice is heard on the show’s recording equipment. Along with the voice comes a strange and horrible transformation of some crew members of “The Hour.” The arrival of several large crates of “artwork” from Romania accelerates the spread of this virtual virus—and the arrival of Torgu.

After Harker unexpectedly returns to New York, she and producer Austen Trotta, a la Van Helsing, begin to realize that the wreckage of the WorldTradeCenter is to be the final home of Torgu, where he can unleash his gray army of humanity’s ghosts in a final holocaust.

This book represents a new, unique vampire: In some respects, Torgu is kind of an amalgam of the psychic vampires of Dan Simmons’ Carrion Comfort, who feed on the manipulation of their human “pets,” and Whitley Striebers’ seductive and hypnotic bloodsuckers of The Hunger. But unlike most contemporary vampires, Torgu is not afraid of religious icons (he collects them), can be seen in mirrors (but not on film) and, most notably, does not bite his victims. Rather, he cuts their throats with a ritualistic knife, drains the blood into a wooden bucket and drinks sloppily from it.

Fangland is an exceptionally well-written and engaging story that takes place in the past, present and possibly horrific future, and utilizes lore from both history and fiction. It’s a must-read for those who subscribe to the living’s fascination with the undead.

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