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Book Review: Seance for a Vampire by Fred Saberhagen

Genre: Mystery, Vampire Novel, Victorian Fiction
Paperback: 192 pages
Publisher: Titan Books; 1 edition
Publication Date: June 22, 2010
ISBN-10: 1848566778
ISBN-13: 978-1848566774
Author Website: Fred Saberhagen

Fred Saberhagen is best known to fans of heroic fantasy for his Swords and Lost Swords series of novels, but did you also know he wrote another series in which Dracula is the protagonist? Unlike the vampire novels of today, Saberhagen’s vampire novels remained Gothic in character. His vampire was not angst-ridden, but suave and debonair; not nearly indestructible, but instead susceptible to things like sunlight and running water (but not religious icons).

Séance for a Vampire is one of Saberhagen’s Dracula novels that stands outside the established canon for the series. Actually part of another series of novels, that of The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, the story is mean to be a mystery in which Holmes, Watson, and Dracula join forces to solve the mystery of two suspect psychics. But they get more than they bargained for, and Holmes is kidnapped into the night. Watson must turn to Dracula, Holmes cousin (a relationship not clearly explained) to help him find Holmes.

The story is written from two perspectives, that of Watson and that of Dracula. Saberhagen does a fair job of capturing the workmanlike prose of Conan Doyle’s Watson, his recitation of facts and details having all the flavor of the original stories. Saberhagen also has Dracula provide a more poetic turn of phrase with his own perspective, interjected and introductory to many of Watson’s comments. Saberhagen has tried to blend the styles of Bram Stoker and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle together for his story. It is an interesting attempt, and had the story itself been of a stronger cast, this tale would have been perfect.

But the plotting does leave a bit to be desired. There is not much mystery in this tale, more of an adventure. Due to an introduction by Dracula and a fairly simplistic set of clues, readers will know who the criminal is and why fairly quickly. The majority of the narrative is actually caught up with the rescue of Holmes and the capturing of a murderer. An adventure that will take them from London to the streets of early 20th century St. Petersburg. Readers of the rational materialist Holmes and Watson are going to have to contend with a Holmes and Watson much more willing to believe in the supernatural (building I believe, on Conan Doyle’s “The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire”). If such is not to your liking, then this book isn’t for you.

On occasion, Dracula would slip from first person to third person for a few short paragraphs for no apparent reason. Well, not no apparent reason. He was hiding behind a persona that he would refer to in the third person, but all this served to do was confuse me as a reader. On another note, except for Dracula providing one of the perspectives in the story, his role in the whole tale is rather minor. Mostly, he provides a “vampire sense” that lets him sniff out other vampires, though even this is used minimally, and at least once the same need could have been filled by a good bloodhound.

Stylistically, I think Saberhagen does a fair job capturing the essence of the more adventurous tales of Sherlock Holmes. Séance for a Vampire at least begins in the tradition of the Holmes tale, even if it deviates later into a type of tale I would not normally ascribe to the Holmes canon. Readers who like classical vampires may find this tale appealing as the notion of vampires is a crux of the tale. Overall, though, the story is entertaining, but not great, has Sherlock Holmes in it but is not a Sherlockian tale, and nicely blends two contemporaneous characters together. Séance for a Vampire is entertaining reading for fans of light horror or thrilling adventure.