Book Review: "Dracula Cha Cha Cha" by Kim Newman
- by Señor Editor, 29 October 2012
First off, some background info for the equally ignorant:
The concept is based on an alternate take on the events of Bram Stoker's "Dracula", in which Van Helsing fails to stop Dracula and his conquest of Great Britain. In result vampires of all kinds come out from hiding and become an integral (if controversial) part of the society. The idea for the series was developed with Newman's friend, Neil Gaiman, and the books are known for integrating all sorts of real life and fictitious characters into the story. There are three books in the series so far, all of which were written in the '90s, and they were all re-released by Titan Books recently (there's a fourth book coming soon), with "Dracula Cha Cha Cha" being the third one. They all take place in different time periods, but there are some recurring characters (including Dracula himself, although he's apparently mostly a background character). Read all about the series here.
"Dracula Cha Cha Cha" (the novel takes it's name from the 1959 song by the same name, you can listen to it here, because I'm sure as hell not embedding it) takes place in Rome in 1959, where a marriage between Dracula and Princess Asa Vadja are about to get married. It's a huge event, and vampires as well as all sorts of celebrities from all over the world are coming to Rome to witness it. In the same time, a British reporter named Kate Reed (also a vampire) comes to the city to see her dying friend (and love interest) Charles Beauregard, once a sworn enemy of Dracula and an important figure in British Intelligence, now an old, exhausted man. Both him and Kate have a history of actively fighting against the King of Vampires.
The plot thickens when Kate learns about a mysterious killer assassinating vampire elders - a man called The Crimson Executioner. At the same time, secret agent Hamish Bond (you can probably guess who that is by yourself now, can't you?) comes to Rome to witness the wedding and find out what Dracula's game is.
And that's probably all I can tell you about the plot without revealing too much, so let's get to some other stuff.
The first thing that immediately comes to attention is the absolutely insane number of popculture references in the book. You could spend a month just researching each and every character, place or event that's mentioned here in passing. It's a really good thing, because it makes the book's world so much more fleshed out and interesting. Aren't you interested which celebrities flirted with vampirism in the late '50s? Don't you wanna see some of the classic Bond's villains completely reimagined and put into this insane setting (one of them has a really, really cool twist to him in this book, but I won't spoil it)? The research it took to create this world alone is impressive, seeing it all work seemlessly is even more admirable. Both Tarzan and Kirk Douglas make an appearence here and it doesn't seem off. That's pretty amazing. Plus, the Rome in this book is presented with all the splendor and style of the classic movies from that decade.
Another thing that's interesting is Newman's take on the vampires themselves and how he manages to make them seem like a natural part of society in the '50s. They're not treated as some weird, supernatural beings. They're pretty much accepted as something completely normal at this point. Some of their weaknesses that are often present in movies and literature do not apply here and some apply only to certain types of vampires. They don't really need blood to survive, instead it's more like it gives them a rush similar to alcohol or drugs. The vampire society is a very diverse one, with all sorts of bloodlines, elders, newborns etc. And they're not the only supernatural (though not treated as such) beings in this book, either. There's all kinds of insane stuff here.
All that said, I recommend this book (and the whole book series, because from what I read it seems like the other are equally entertaining - I'd like to check out "The Bloody Red Baron" myself) if you're a fan of vampires, a horror nerd, or just a fan of good, really well researched fiction that's so full of references it will make your head spin. It's like a popculture nerd's wet dream, and it's a highly-acclaimed book series.
Also, if you already read this book when it first came out and you're a fan of Newman's, you might want to get it anyway. Because A) Titan Books really gave those books some absolutely fantastic covers ("Dracula Cha Cha Cha" has a cover like an old school movie poster; very stylish) and B) there's an additional brand new novella included here called "The Aquarius". I won't spoil that one at all, but it's the same level of quality of writing. So yeah, get it.