Review: Johnny Alucard / Author: Kim Newman / Publisher: Titan Books / Release Date: Out Now
Despite all the pre-publicity, it still feels slightly odd to be holding a new Anno Dracula book in one's hands, and not just because it's been 15 years since the last one. There's also the small matter that Dracula Cha Cha Cha ended with an ageing Prince of Darkness experiencing the true death and being cremated on an Italian resort beach. That said, Dracula has never been known to take death lying down.
This instalment passes on the baton to a young disciple of the big D who goes by different names through the late '70s, '80s and early '90s. He's a harmless bumpkin called Ion Popescu when Francis Ford Coppola encounters him on location in Romania while shooting a version of Dracula which bears a striking resemblance to Apocalypse Now; then he's the slick, disco-dancing Johnny Pop as he inveigles his way into Andy Warhol's inner circle in New York; and finally he's big time movie producer Johnny Alucard in LA. Johnny finances his climb to the top by pedalling “drak”, powdered vampire blood, but the money is only a means to an end as he sets about trying to usher in a new era of undead domination.
Lapel-grabbing stuff, but then the Anno Dracula books have never lacked for a striking premise. Where they tend to come unstuck is in delivering a sustained and compelling narrative. So it proves here: it soon becomes apparent that Alucard's dizzying ascent is little more than an excuse for Newman to do what he loves best, namely, rope all kinds of fictional and historical personages into a brightly hued alt version of popular culture. So it's quite normal to get Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Columbo, Orson Welles and Leatherface all turning up within a chapter of each other, but none of this busy name-dropping ever amounts to much. Throw in a curious stop-start rhythm to the storyline, the result of the fact that parts of the text has been stitched together from what were originally separate short stories, and it's like watching a kid repeatedly getting out all of his toys, only to sweep them back into their box again before any kind of game can be played.
What is also clear, in retrospect, is how important the sense of a particular period and locale was to the success of the earlier books – the 1880s Whitechapel of Anno Dracula, with its gaslight and shadowy figures in opera cloaks, the 1950s Rome of Dracula Cha Cha Cha, all whizzing Vespas and bustling cafe life. Stretched thin over a sprawling time frame, Johnny Alucard can't hope to replicate this. But none of this will worry Newman's fans too much. The qualities that make his writing such a pleasure are present in abundance – the sharp, witty prose, the flights of fancy underpinned by enormous erudition. It's just a shame that, as a story, Johnny Alucard never rises above blood temperature.