Thursday, 13 November 2014

Rapid Reviews : Johnny Alucard by Kim Newman

Kim Newman returns to his series of alternative history vampire novels, Anno Dracula (I've reviewed or rather praised all previous three installments on this blog) with a fourth novel entitled Johnny Alucard.

Sadly, on the whole, I'd rather wish he hadn't bothered.

This fourth installment is a new novel which came after the successful Titan reissues of the previous three novels which had all originally been published in the 1990s. This newly penned 2013 novel introduces us to a new character - Ion Popescu, a Romanian peasant boy and one of the last gets of Dracula - as well as reuniting old favourites such as Katie Reed, Genevieve Dieudonne and Penelope Churward. It is set in the alternate reality of the mid 1970s right through to 1991 and is largely made up of previously published short stories and new material, making a reading experience that is decidedly uneven in tone, regrettably. 

A bit of research online tells me that all the moments I enjoyed in the book - Popescu and Reed on the set of Francis Ford Coppola's 1976 movie adaptation of Dracula, a thinly disguised Apocalypse Now, which sees them rubbing shoulders with Brando, Martin Sheen, Robert Duvall and Dennis Hopper whilst being beset by problems, Genevieve's meetings Stateside with Orson Welles and famed PI Philip Marlowe, Popescu's transformation to Johnny Pop, cohort of Andy Warhol in late 70s New York, and Katie Reed's involvement in the 1980 Romanian Embassy Siege -  had all been written by Newman previously over the years, whilst the stuff newly written stuff proved to be the final half of the novel which was a muddled experience which left me with a feeling of an author desperately trying to tie up all the loose strands as well as force the cultural references he had once so effortlessly achieved. 

Newman's writing style in the series had always shown his characters approaching the plot from different angles and he has indeed included short stories into his previous three books to great effect, but it feels particularly disjointed here. It's a shame because the satirical edge to the plot which sees Popescu become Johnny Pop, trader in powdered blood entitled drac which gives its users a brief high of vampiric properties, before becoming John Alucard, the reincarnation of the long dead Dracula has potential of sorts. But the outcome isn't cohesive or successful enough and, without giving too much away, when we reach the final pages and realise the Count, anew in the US with his 'Greed Is Good' mantra, poses a threat to the world once more, I rather wished for a different conclusion, one which closed the door firmly because I can't see a fifth novel improving on this lacklustre material especially when part of the fun of the novels is the diversions Newman makes with a history of the twentieth century - is there much potential in doing the same for the mid 90s to the present day?  

It was Newman's third novel in the original trilogy Dracula Cha Cha Cha that gave us that closed door, with the death of Dracula in 1959's Rome. He really ought to have left it there.

There's still some fun to be had spotting the real life, literary, TV and cinema characters who cameo throughout Johnny Alucard - characters like Coppola et al, Stallone, Warhol, Travis Bickle, Popeye Doyle, Shaggy and Scooby Doo, Blade, Tony Manero, Darius Jedburgh, Patrick Bateman, Philip Marlowe, Dixon of Dock Green, Detectives Munch and Lewis, Tarantino and Spinal Tap - but this was absolutely my least favourite in the Anno Dracula series.

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