Book Review: Anno Dracula Cha Cha Cha
I have had the great pleasure of reviewing Kim Newman’s previous Anno Dracula books (Anno Dracula, Anno Dracula: the Bloody Red Baron), and was happy to get the chance to check out Newman’s newest Anno Dracula book: Dracula Cha Cha Cha.
Newman’s first book took place in Victorian England, his second during WWI. Both books do a thing which I very much enjoy (when done well)–they combine a historical fiction base with fictional characters. This makes for a lovely mix of alternative history and mystery in one of the funnest cross-genres I have enjoyed reading lately.* What Newman does especially well in all these books is make the setting very important ( as all historical fiction should), includes fictional as well as historical (and original) characters in vital ways, and makes sure the story remains paramount.
In Dracula Cha Cha Cha, Newman puts us in 1960s Rome just as deftly as he previously put us in Victorian England and WWI Europe, with enough setting description to put us there, without detracting from the story. This is important because it’s in essence a detective story, and the what-will-happen-next, whodunit aspect is actually the most important thing in a story like this. Another quite skillful thing Newman does is incorporate the setting into the action, which means we’re getting more of the setting while still investigating the murder.
One of the funnest* things about all three Anno Dracula books is the spot-the-character game. Many beloved characters from fiction in the time period when the book is set appear in vital roles, and while Newman never randomly throws these characters in for no reason, it’s still an Easter egg game to see who shows up, and who ends up being a vampire. This latest installment is no exception–I know a lot of my geeky friends and I claim James Bond is a Timelord, but in this book he’s a vampire. Totally makes sense, and the way favorite character Kate Reed interacts with him is priceless. The deadly Lovelies are quite Bondian without being associated with Bond, and the groovy student-and-drug related novella Aquarius (included in this volume) are right out of a 1960s movie. I only wish Newman had included the Avengers (TV spies, not superheroes) in this mix. But that’s just me.
Both stories in this volume (the main novel, plus the novella Aquarius) are murder mysteries, and are just as gripping, mysterious, and full of twists as a story of that genre should be. I won’t even reveal anything about either plot itself, only that they are well crafted whodunits. They do get a little gory, but that’s of course to be expected in a vampire book. The only other thing I can say about plot, is that I wish Newman had had only the novel here, and published the novellas (from the last book and this one) in a separate collection. I understand that that would mean having two stories in two different time periods instead of keeping to one volume, one era, but the way it is now makes for kind of a long read. It’s not really a big deal, it’s just a thing to think about for the next one, guys. 🙂
Bottom Line: the Anno Dracula series is excellent, and I highly recommend this latest one.
*i am an English professor by trade. I’m allowed to say “funnest.”
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