Given its title, Dracula vs. Hitler would seem to be a mash-up not terribly worthy of a serious review. Surprise, surprise! The novel, written in the epistolary style of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, is smart and engrossing. Author Patrick Sheane Duncan adroitly takes a preposterous theme to giddy heights, and tells a damn good story in the process. The narrative postulates that Stoker’s fictional tale was based on real events and people, who refer to it as “The Book.” Stoker took liberties with the material. His sense of melodrama and theatrics are mocked by those who know what truly transpired in Transylvania. Years after Stoker’s fabrication, Professor Van Helsing and his daughter Lucille engage in guerilla activity opposing Hitler’s rise to power. The Van Helsings enable and commit significant acts of sabotage against the Nazis, but they and their allies are losing ground. After weighing the options, the good doctor decides to enlist his old foe in the cause of freedom.
Lucille is a sophisticated and experienced woman of the world, but meeting the Transylvanian prince (not a mere count as in “The Book”) rattles her perceptions: “She examined the vampire’s face. It was a strong one, no doubt, aquiline, a lofty forehead, eyebrows thick, his hair bushy, curls in profusion, a rather cruel-looking mouth, red lips, broad chin, and an extraordinary pallor. There was an intelligence in those amber eyes that reduced her general feeling of superiority over most men. The mustache seemed old-fashioned but enhanced his aura of masculinity. There was no evidence of the oily, smarmy air seen in the Lugosi performance.”
Dracula is educated about cinema courtesy of Lucille. He becomes enamored of Bugs Bunny and King Kong, and astutely analyzes structure and visuals. Both Van Helsings enthusiastically update “Vlad” on the literature he’s missed out on during his…repose. Despite the intellectual conviviality, the doctor remains understandably wary of the vampire. Now, there’s Lucille to be concerned about: she is Van Helsing’s only child, born late in his life. Although she’s perfectly capable of obliterating German enemies, and using men to scratch a sexual itch, she hasn’t previously dealt with a supernatural killer whose love is lethal. Vlad is fascinated by the facets of Lucille’s personality, finding them charming in their contradictions: “Dracula listened as her footsteps receded, still bemused by her many forms: terrorist leader, vagabond, nurse, bibliophile, and now excitable maiden.”
The romantic tension is nicely played. It is not of the Twilight variety, but more akin to banter from The Thin Man, or reminiscent of Bogart-Bacall dialogue. Perhaps that’s because Patrick Sheane Duncan is a screenplay writer whose works include Mr. Holland’s Opus, Nick of Time, and Courage Under Fire. While romance is certainly an aspect of the narrative, there’s also ample violence, intrigue, and action that are well integrated into the plot. Dracula as anti-hero is admirably executed, which is another positive.
Dracula vs. Hitler, published by Inkshares, is a book that vastly exceeded expectations. A most pleasant surprise, indeed.