Review: Frankenstein's Prescription / Author: Tim Lees / Publisher: Tartarus Press / Release Date: Out Now
Tim Lees isn't the first author to throw the lever on a Frankenstein spin-off, and he won't be the last, but this stormy Gothic yarn is very welcome nonetheless. The setting is the turn of the last century, and the narrator is Hans Schneider, a caddish and dissolute medical student who is cut off without a penny after accidentally slaying another man in a duel. As penance for his folly, he's forced to serve as an assistant at a remote asylum run by the mysterious Dr Lavenza, who turns out to be none other than the great-grandson of a certain infamous scientist (clue: his name begins with F and you'd think twice before offering to lend him a hand).
No sooner has he arrived than Hans finds himself holding down a writhing patient while she has her skull trepanned, and then there are encounters with various unsavoury inmates, including the golem-like Carl, who serves as the doctor's factotum. Lavenza himself isn't much company: a feverish, preoccupied character who divides his time between hitting the bottle and conducting secretive experiments. It's a nightmarish scenario, and it only gets worse when the dismembered pieces of a peasant woman are found scattered outside the asylum.
No question who dunnit: it's the monster, who, years on from the original Frankenstein's demise, is still persecuting his descendants with malicious glee (and anyone who knows them, which sucks for Hans). And now he's tracked down Lavenza, he wants something from him: a mate. Trouble is, Lavenza's not really up to the job. His only hope of success lies in reconstructing the research of the Frankensteins who went before him.
To this end, Lavenza, Hans and Carl embark on a shambolic picaresque which takes them to Italy, France and Belgium before culminating in a return to the laboratory where it all began. It's a story full of Germanic doom and gloom, but light relief is provided by Hans, a cowardly dandy of the Flashman type who lives in hope that all of this weird science might somehow bring him fame and fortune. He's always good for a wry quip, and his narration rattles along at top speed in short, staccato chapters brimming with dark atmospherics.
The monster spends much of the book offstage, and this works very well, allowing him to loom all the more over the other characters. When he does make an appearance, he comes bringing shock and awe. As a portrayal, it sticks reasonably close to Mary Shelley and is all the more chilling for that. Laverna emerges rather less vividly, but then you would expect that of a character who's overshadowed by his tragic forebears.
Moody, fast-paced and told with verve, Frankenstein's Prescription has the feeling of vintage Michael Moorcock in a black, Gothic vein. It's available in a hardback edition limited to 300 copies from the Tartarus Press website.