© 1897 Bram Stoker
Every attorney has problematic clients, but few can claim an actual monster. Such is the case with Count Dracula, as young lawyer Jonathan Hawker discovers to his dismay and horror when he arrives at the mysterious count’s manor in Transylvania. The trip was just a bit of business — finalizing the papers for the count’s purchase of land in England. But the Count is a man who the locals fear, who can command the beasts of the earth, and who is never around during the day. Hawker quickly finds himself an effective prisoner, shut up in a foreboding castle full of locked doors and secrets, and when he stumbles through one into the other — discovering that the Count is a vampire, who subsists on human blood — Hawker realizes both he and the City of London are in peril.
For a century-old gothic thriller, Dracula stands up very well. It uses an unexpected format, its story rendered in the letters and diary entries of the participants, who occasionally pool their notes to get the bigger picture. This epistolary approach allows the reader to piece the story together, instead of having all the work done for us by the narrative. (A good bit of the characters’ work is done by Dr. van Helsing, who has a tendency to lecture.) Modern readers of vampires will recognize the creature here, but books like Twilight and In the Forests of the Night divorce the monster from his background. Stoker’s vampire is a creature of Hell, experiencing a corrupted and bastardized version of eternal life; his association with the devil is not merely one of hyperbole, but real to the point that Dracula and his victims are completely disabled by the presence of a Eucharistic wafer. (Not included as vampire traits are a tendency to say “Bleh!” and an obsession with counting. Sesame Street lied to me!)
From its beginnings — the dread-laden arrival in Transylvania, the creeping horror as Hawker and others piece together the truth — until the chase at the end, Dracula remains a very effective thriller.