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Draculas / Jack Kilborn, F. Paul Wilson, Blake Crouch, and Jeff Strand

Kindle Edition / October 2010
Reviewed by: Daniel R. Robichaud

The four-way collaborative novel Draculas begins quietly enough. Dying millionaire Mortimer Moorecook purchases a curiosity, a grotesque skull from Transylvania reputed to belong to Dracula. Soon after receiving it, the millionaire mutilates himself on its enormous fangs and is taken to the hospital. For Moorecook, it is too late; for readers, the fun is only beginning.

After a handful of point of view breaks (there are no chapters per se), the novel ceases its slow setup and hits 100% pure adrenaline. Soon, the isolated hospital is overwhelmed with monsters seeking more blood.

Draculas offers up vampirism as super-efficient, supernatural rabies. The result is a creature with the ethics of piranha in a feeding frenzy and the jaws of a great white shark. A bite is all it takes to unleash the hunger, and every subsequent chomp spreads blood frenzy and physical transformation. Patients make easy victims, but the "draculas" (this novel avoids the v-word) are not picky. They'll lick blood off the floor or, if no other prey is available, turn on one another or even autocannibalize.

The novel is a grisly and gruesome black comedy. It's pure entertainment, a popcorn-style terror story. Those looking for a layered, atmospheric story of ghostly horrors should pass this one by. Draculas aims to replicate the same thrill of attending a good summer blockbuster (or perhaps the most extravagant grind house movie never made) and hits its mark.

The novel is an exercise in survival horror, which echoes the pulse of dozens of flicks from the seventies/eighties (think Cameron's Aliens meets the Lamberto Bava's Demons) as well as the gory excesses of David Morrell's early fiction (Kind of The Totem meets First Blood). We find several characters to root for and several to loathe. Their struggles make for some engaging page . . . turning? As Draculas is a straight to eBook release, I suppose this particular nomenclature needs changing. Page tapping, perhaps?

A large cast of characters fills this novel, and while they can each be boiled down to simple concepts (Moorecook the master monster, Dr. Lanz the pompous ER doctor, Jenny the nurse, Shanna the historian, Clayton the gun nut cop, Randall the lumberjack, Benny the Clown, Oasis the little girl, etcetera), the authors provide plenty of quirks to make these characters come alive at least for the story's duration. Of course, the most interesting are often the monsters, as they deal with their newfound hungers and strengths and find a very personal language for identifying them (personal favorite: a little girl dracula looking for "red candy", which the stingy adults continually deny her).

The four collaborating authors have comparable voices. Readers well-versed in their individual works might be able to pick out the occasional Jeff Strand or F. Paul Wilson sequence in the beginning; however, as the book progresses, the language merges into a seamless whole.

Yet, Draculas isn't perfect. Even when I found myself caught up in the action, the critical part of my mind often wondered about the rules. Why did none of these critters venture terribly far from the hospital? It may be isolated, but surely some of these suckers caught a whiff of the fauna in the surrounding woods. While this might be resolved through Moorecook's unspecified influence over them, the bloodsuckers' rules of activity remain mysterious. Perhaps this shall be explored in a sequel.

Also, despite the novel's intentions, I found my interest waning in the final act (say, the final quarter). Often, attempts to maintain high levels of tension for too long grow tedious, and I found a touch of that here. I was pleased when the conclusion arrived, but the book's final act (wherein the excrement has clogged the proverbial fan's motor, but continues to pile on anyway) got a little long in the draculas' tooth.

As well, the dialogue between the novel's manly men often relies heavily on film references. While this is entertaining in short supply, I found the quantity of nods to Aliens, Dirty Harry, The Thing, and other flicks to grow wearisome. While I also love these movies (heaven knows I often quote films during my day-to-day interactions; likeminded readers undoubtedly spotted my review's nod to Point Break), I don't like to read quite so many. Then again, I also dislike speaking with people who only talk in film references.

One of the pleasing aspects of this work is the sheer quantity of included material, apart from the novel. As J. A. Konrath notes in his introduction, eBooks do not suffer the same shipping and printing concerns as print books, where page count determines a large number of invisible-to-readers costs. Thus, Draculas includes a vast number of bonus features after the novel is complete, making this the literary equivalent of a double disc special edition DVD.

Apart from the novel itself (a sizeable chunk of prose; my iPhone's Kindle app does not tell me page numbers, per se, but at the smallest print size, the novel alone has well over 400 "page turns"), this eBook includes an introduction by J.A. Konrath (aka Jack Kilborn), an interview with the four authors, lengthy email correspondence exchanged during the writing of the book (Warning: Spoilers aplenty!), as well as three short story reprints (early collaborations between J.A. Konrath and each of Draculas' other authors), novel excerpts, bios, deleted scenes, and alternate endings. The additional material amounts to about the same length as the novel itself. To belabor the DVD comparison a little further, this offers plenty of meaty material, not simple afterthought featurettes. Though it is nothing new for Konrath, who provides similar material (including alternate drafts) on his other Jack Kilborn eBook releases, I found these inclusions to be fascinating looks into the creative process. Furthermore, who am I to argue with more fiction from a quartet of talents like this?

The bottom line: Draculas isn't terribly deep. It's not a thoughtful tale of soul-numbing horror. What it is, however, is a monster movie for the mind's eye: an entertaining, thrill-a-minute, blood-drenched story of survival and blackly comic nastiness. Readers looking for exciting fiction need look no further than this. It’s well worth its $2.99 price tag.

Purchase Draculas by Jack Kilborn, F. Paul Wilson, Blake Crouch, and Jeff Strand.

Posted on Tuesday, November 9, 2010 at 11:24AM by Registered CommenterDark Scribe Magazine in | Comments Off

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