I received this book for free from the Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Strange Practice by Vivian Shaw
Series: Dr. Greta Helsing #1
Published by Orbit on July 25 2017
Genres: Adult, Horror
Format: Finished paperback
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The nitty-gritty: A modern-day supernatural mystery cloaked in Victorian garb, with monsters.
When I first saw the cover of Strange Practice, I knew it was going to be different from other books I’ve read. This is exactly the kind of cover that grabs my attention: quirky, brightly colored, and there is obviously an interesting story lurking behind it. And I guessed right. Strange Practice is about the monsters who live among us, but it’s not the horror story I was expecting. This is what I’m calling a “kinder, gentler monster story.” Shaw gives us something unique, a story with the gothic feel of a classic horror tale like Dracula or Frankenstein, that is actually set in modern times. I very much enjoyed the characters, and there is a subtle but biting humor that didn’t surprise me because it takes place in London and is very British. But for some reason I wasn’t blown away by Strange Practice, although other bloggers are really enjoying it. I’ll explain more, but first a quick recap.
Dr. Greta Helsing (yes, that Helsing, although the family has removed the “van” from their name) is one-of-a-kind in her field: she cares for monsters, not humans. Her patients are vampires, ghouls, demons, mummies and other creatures of the night. She inherited her practice from her late father, who taught her the ropes and the specialties of dealing with garlic poisoning, run-ins with iron weapons, and even the common cold. Her closest friends are a vampire named Edmund Ruthven and a demon named Fastitocalon (“Fass” for short), and she runs her small, specialized and secretive practice in London.
One day, Ruthven brings her a patient, another vampire who is in dire straights after being attacked by a monk-like figure with blue glowing eyes with an odd cross-shaped knife. Sir Francis Varney (of Varney the Vampire fame) is in a great deal of pain, and when Greta investigates the wound site, she discovers an odd metallic material that is preventing Varney from healing. She immediately removes it, and Varney begins to get better, but several questions remain: Who was the attacker in monk garb? Why did he attack Varney? And what kind of weapon could make such an odd cross-shaped wound? Being a doctor, Greta is of course very curious, and so she and her friends embark on a quest to uncover the reasons behind the attack.
At the same time, London is being plagued with a rash of serial killings à la Jack the Ripper. Someone is targeting prostitutes and leaving cheap plastic rosaries in their mouths. As Greta, Varney and Ruthven begin their unofficial investigation, the two crimes seem to overlap. After Greta herself is attacked by the same monk with the same weapon, the threat becomes very real. Monsters and the people who hang out with them seem to be the target. Greta is more determined than ever to figure out the mystery behind the monks’ murderous behavior, stop the threat against her friends and save her practice.
This story was delightful in so many ways! I particularly loved the way Shaw brings in fictional characters from classic horror tales, like Varney the Vampire and Ruthven. Although I had never heard of Ruthven, I had heard of Varney, so it was simply a matter of a quick Google search, and I was grinning from ear to ear. Even the character of Greta is descended from the famous Van Helsings! Even better, the characters, who are “real” in this story, are both amused and distressed by how wrong the writers who wrote their stories interpreted things. There is a lot of humorous rolling of the eyes, and the subtle humor was definitely one of my favorite things about this story.
Shaw adds plenty of scientific jargon, which makes sense because Greta is a doctor. Reading about mass spectrometer results (hey, any Bones fans out there??), technical medical terms, and Greta’s desire to obtain a 3D printer so she can make replacement bones for mummies was a lot of fun, and it added a rich layer to the less serious, more relaxed parts of the book.
Strangely, Greta was not my favorite character, even though I expected her to be. She actually grated on my nerves in places. Her never-ending desire to fix people and mother her friends got tiring after a while, although she does pepper her dialog with plenty of swearing, which I found unexpected and quite charming. Ruthven was probably my favorite character, a classic “Dracula-like” vampire with plenty of heart, who dearly loves Greta and considers her family. There is also the hint of romance between Greta and Varney, and I expect that storyline may go further in future installments.
I also loved the relationship between Greta and Fass, who is an old friend of Greta’s father. Although I stumbled over his name every single time it appeared, I loved that he’s a slightly mysterious figure, he may or may not be a demon, and you don’t really learn who he is until the end of the book. Points go to the author for giving me a couple of scenes between Fass and Greta that gave me goosebumps!
But as far as stories go, I just didn’t find this one all that exciting (and perhaps it wasn’t meant to be). The language is very British and formal, the monsters are polite to a fault, and the pace is more of a meandering one with short bursts of action. Not once while I was reading this book was I worried about the characters, which is strange, because there are plenty of bad things happening. There is an underlying sense of urgency in places, but it’s tempered with the calm demeanor of the characters. Add in the fact that there are long passages where everyone sits around talking about what they should do next, all while Greta flits around the men, trying to get them to rest, to eat, or to simply sit still so she can tend to them. Overall, Strange Practice felt like an old-fashioned black and white movie from the 1940s, and the evil is easily dealt with, with nary a coiffed vampire hair out of place.
But despite my few hesitations, I did enjoy this book, and yes, I am curious to see what happens in the next installment, so I will be picking up the sequel (Fun fact: the publisher includes chapter one from Bad Company at the end of the book!). My advice is to read this for the characterizations and the wry humor, rather than the horror and the action.
Big thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy.