Stoker’s Manuscript by Royce Prouty
Genre: Adult Horror/Thriller/Historical
Publisher: Putnam Adult
Release date: June 13 2013
Source: Digital ARC from publisher via NetGalley
In a word: A taut horror/mystery/thriller mash-up, filled with fascinating historical details, well-drawn characters with emotional family ties, and some grisly horror thrown in for good measure.
Days passed back in internment in the confines of my room in Castel Bran, silent room service my only interruptions. Now I knew what acceptance meant and needed no imagination to know how this would all end. What was it that swung this normally God-fearing man to one who plots the demise and destruction of another? When Dalca announced that both I and my brother owed him, I knew he meant to splatter the blood of one of us so the other would see.
I thoroughly enjoyed Stoker’s Manuscript, although it was not what I was expecting. In fact, the story is much more deeply layered and the characters are in much graver danger than the description suggests. I was charmed from the beginning by the main character of Joseph, a rare book collector and seller who is well-known for his skills at authenticating original manuscripts. Fancying myself a book collector as well (although not anywhere close to Joseph’s league!), I love reading anything to do with rare books. But although Joseph’s skills as a rare book dealer are a big part of the story, it’s only one facet of a multi-layered tale. Prouty adds lots of carefully researched historical details that make this story so interesting, and he connects his characters to each other in intricate ways and puts just about everyone in danger.
Joseph Barkeley is a rare book dealer who has just received a mysterious phone call from a gentleman who is representing a client who wishes to purchase Bram Stoker’s original manuscript of Dracula. The buyer is willing to pay big money for this item, provided Joseph can procure not only the manuscript, but Stoker’s original notes, and a prologue and epilogue that were not part of the published book. After authenticating the document, Joseph is asked to fly to Transylvania to meet the buyer and discuss the details of the purchase, and that’s when his troubles begin. Once there he meets a mysterious man who reeks of carrion and hovers in the shadows of a dusty basement in Castel Bran, a man with red eyes who will pay anything, and do anything, to get his hands on the manuscript.
But he’s not the only one who’s interested in purchasing this rare document, for terrible secrets are hidden within, secrets that put Joseph, as well as his friends and family, in grave danger. In order to survive, Joseph is going to have to try to stay out of the middle of a family feud that goes back hundreds of years, complete the job he was hired to do, and uncover his own family’s secrets. And hopefully make it back home in one piece.
I think my favorite parts of Stoker’s Manuscript were the many fascinating historical details about Bram Stoker and the publication of Dracula. The author has obviously done quite a bit of research, because all these details felt authentic. This book is chock full of history, and while I normally cringe at stories that bombard me with history lessons, I loved every detail in this book. (And I learned a lot, too!) Prouty manages to combine the stories of Nikola Tesla, the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago and George Westinghouse, as well as facts about the inspiration for Dracula, Vlad the Impaler. One of Joseph’s special talents is being able date and uncover the origin of paper, simply by looking closely at the fibers of a document. It was one of the little details that I loved about the story, and even better, we learn later on just why Joseph has this unique ability.
All of Prouty’s characters have intricate back-stories and complicated relationships. Joseph is a man who has carved out a niche for himself with his rare book business, but one phone call disrupts this peaceful life and he is thrown into a situation that seems almost impossible to get out of. I loved the interaction between Joseph and his brother, Bernhardt, whose early years as Romanian orphans shaped their adult lives and gave them a wonderful tenderness for the nuns of the convent they grew up in. I also liked Sonia, a woman of indeterminate age with a connection to Bram Stoker, who is able to give Joseph insights into the mystery he’s trying to unravel.
And let’s not forget the bad guys! Dalca is the dangerous vampire who imprisons Joseph in Castel Bran until he figures out the clues in Stoker’s manuscript, and we get to see just how evil he can be. Several unexpectedly gruesome scenes shocked me at first, but ended up fitting perfectly with the eerie and terrifying events that Joseph finds himself in the middle of.
The pace of the story lagged a bit in places, mostly when Joseph is trying to find the grave of Dalca’s wife. It wasn’t always easy to tell how much time was passing, and because the action takes place both in Chicago and Transylvania, I sometimes felt lost as Joseph made several trips back and forth. Another grave-digging scene late in the story seemed to go on forever, and I would have liked them to dig faster, especially at the end when you really don’t want things to slow down.
I also felt I was missing something by reading a digital ARC. I could tell there were graphic images in the book, but I wasn’t able to see them. Apologies to the author for not getting myself to a book store to research this first! I’m sure the finished book is lovely, and I look forward to seeing the images I’ve missed.
But overall this is a pretty minor complaint. Stoker’s Manuscript is so atmospheric, so chillingly creepy and so brilliantly researched that you will marvel at all the connections you discover within its pages. The combination of horror and history, told in a present-day setting, was irresistible. Prouty is a writer to watch.
Many thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy. The above quote was taken from an uncorrected proof and may differ in the finished version of the book.
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