Bookworm Sez: ‘Dracul’ — a terrifying take on a horror classic

It was just a little scratch.

You wouldn’t have even noticed it, except for the blood — and there was a lot of that. A surprising amount, in fact, for such a small scuff on the side of your wrist, the end of your finger, the top of your thigh, or, as in the new novel, “Dracul” by Dacre Stoker & J.D. Barker, your neck.

He could hear the thing breathing.

It was a raspy sound, half-howl, part-groan, and Bram Stoker was running out of items he could bless to keep the creature from the room where he sat. He watched the door, fearing he would lose the battle before daybreak.

As he waited, Stoker remembered…

He’d been born a sickly child, and had been confined to his bed in an attic room for much of his first decade of life. It was a time of famine in Dublin and he might’ve even died were it not for his father’s job, which allowed for care, a decent home, ample food, and a governess for the Stoker children.

Nanny Ellen Crone was stern, but loving, and the children adored her though she came and went as she pleased, which vexed Stoker’s mother. As Stoker remembered, Nanny Ellen saved his life during a particularly bad bout with his illness, but he couldn’t exactly recall how she’d done it. Not long after that, and a childishly impulsive chase through a bog (or was it a nightmare?), Ellen disappeared.

Didn’t she? Many years later, Stoker’s sister thought she saw Ellen in Paris. His oldest brother thought he’d seen her in Clontarf. It was her but not her, looking as though she was still a girl.

Ellen would have been middle-aged by then, so how could that be? And why did Stoker still have wounds on his wrist that tormented him when he thought of her and the night she saved his life?

He thought about those things, as a beast or wraith or something scratched at his door…

Before you crack the cover of “Dracul,” make sure you have enough light bulbs. You’re going to want to use them to make your house nice and bright and safe because this may not be the most innovative premise for a novel, but it’s one of the scariest.

Gone from the classic tale is its original sense of distance; here, authors Dacre Stoker (a great-grandnephew of the real Bram) and J.D. Barker put Bram Stoker directly into a tale that dives, neck-first, into horror with hinted end-notes of truth. That’s excellent and it ratchets up the fright-factor, though it’s tempered when we’re asked to believe that Stoker as a 7-year-old is more intelligent and articulate than any mid-19th century adult might be.

But never mind. Stay, as this gothic novel with undertones of modernism gently draws you into a snarling sense of doom until you’re fully snared in a lock-the-doors, turn-on-the-lights scare-session. Stay, as you’ll race-read to get past the goosebumpiest fright, heart galloping, hoping that the locks hold.

Stay, as “Dracul” leaves you scratching for air.

Terri Schlichenmeyer is the Bookworm.

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