A serial killer nicknamed the Rosary Ripper is terrorising London, cruelly dispatching his/her victims before depositing a cheap rosary inside their mouth as a macabre calling card. When a rather unconventional physician called Greta Helsing (yes, she is related to you-know-who) attends a vampire who was recently stabbed by a gang of chanting, glowing-eyed monks, and finds the wound has been infected by a weird substance that prevents it from healing, she decides to investigate further. Are the sinister monks and the Rosary Ripper connected? And why are the victims, who include both the living and the undead, being so indiscriminately targeted? But it isn’t long before Greta herself is attacked, her throat slashed by some hideous creature who accuses her of being a witch and promises to cleanse the world. Greta and her confidantes – the vampires Varney and Ruthven, the former demon Fastitocalon (who’s got rather a nasty cough) and the very mortal August Cranswell - are suddenly London’s only line of defence against an evil that is as malign as it is unstoppable, and which has Greta and co. firmly in its sights.
Strange Practice is the first in a ‘Dr. Greta Helsing’ series and it is an interesting idea: Greta, who runs a cash-strapped medical clinic for the “differently alive” and numbers vampires, ghouls, demons and mummies among her patients, is a no-nonsense heroine with a side-line in dry wit, and the characters who surround her make neat foils, although Fastitocalon does get a little wearing (and his name is just plain annoying). In many ways, Greta comes across like a 10th generation Xeroxed copy of Penny Dreadful’s Vanessa Ives, except armed with a medical degree. The mad monks are curious as well, and author Vivian Shaw draws a neat allegory between the events in the novel and real-world hate crime and religious zealotry, which is undead-on-the-money considering the state the planet is in right now. It’s also obvious that Shaw loves the genre she’s writing in, and that she’s done her metaphysical research.
But Strange Practice just doesn’t gel. Shaw’s prose is workmanlike but uneven and the dialogue is often bland and annoyingly expository. On top of that, some of the phrasing is so clunky that it completely takes you out of the book. It’s quite a tiresome read which is a shame because the central concept, though very gimmicky, is a good one. If the writing for the second book is sharper, this series may be worth a revisit, but sadly this isn’t a hugely promising start.
STRANGE PRACTICE / AUTHOR: VIVIAN SHAW / PUBLISHER: ORBIT / RELEASE DATE: 27TH JULY