Wednesday 11 November 2015

Dracula's Heir

Heir Raising

Dracula's Heir: An Interactive Mystery
by Sam Stall 
Quirk Books 
ISBN: 9781594742859

Well this is a very nice idea, I must say.

In this modern age where the Kindle and other such reading devices have, for better or worse, taken such a hold on the international reading market, it was nice to hold in my hands a rather unusual volume which prides itself, almost, on giving the reader an interactive experience which is more of a tactile one. That is to say, although I’m sure the contents of this book could be fairly accurately reproduced in an electronic form, to do so would be to miss the point somewhat and take away a lot from the charm of the book... it would lose almost everything in translation to a virtual realm, I fear.

To explain, Dracula’s Heir comes with the strap line “An Interactive Mystery” but, this is not interaction in the sense that most youngsters would understand it today. This is a puzzle of a book, a whodunnit if you like, with the emphasis being placed more on the “Who is the vampire?” aspect of that question at the heart of this story. But the way in which the story within the story is presented, reveals another mystery... Why is the author of this work in danger? If you solve the riddle of who is the vampire and just what their link is with the original Bram Stoker novel Dracula, then you will also, I expect, have the answer to the original question of the fictional author’s own hasty mortality.

To find the solution to this conundrum, you read through the book and, at various regular and random intervals, you come across sealed or ‘bound in’ pieces of printed paraphernalia which you can study at your leisure to help in finding clues to the story at hand. This is a sequel to the original novel but it takes the premise that Dracula was actually a true account of the happenings involving the real people in the book... and that Stoker’s account of their adventure is seen from the time of the events to be a highly fictionalised fancy instead of what it is for the people in the book... a recording of the nightmarish events of their very real life.

Starting off with an author telling how he came to be in possession of all the wonderful artefacts dotted about the book, we then start reading the post-Dracula journal extracts of the Dr. Seward character from the original novel, and this account is what takes up the bulk of the book, taking little pauses here and there while you study the wonderful clues and “interactive” items dotted throughout; such as handwritten letters, old photographs, a reproduction of two pages of a Victorian newspaper, an extract from Renfield’s journal and even a mysterious unpublished chapter or Bram Stoker’s Dracula which was withheld from publication at the request of Jonathan Harker, in case it caused him unnecessary embarrassment should the contents of that chapter, which takes place very early in the original Stoker novel (before he has even met Count Dracula), come to light. This fictional “lost chapter” again takes the form of a smaller book or pamphlet attached to one of the pages of the actual book.

I have to say upfront, one way in which this book falls down a little, is because I was pretty sure I knew who the vampire in this tale was right from the introduction of a particular character into the narrative and, alas, the writer’s attempt at misdirection to point to other characters within the story just reenforced that belief which, at the end of the book, turned out to be the correct solution to the mystery. That being said, it’s such a wonderfully presented thing, and fairly well written (although I’m not sure Stoker would have used some of the words which frequent that mini chapter, or at least not have spelled them like that) that I am quite happy to dismiss the obviousness of the book’s final solution because I had such a great time reading this one... even though it’s a fairly quick read.

Another great thing about it is the illustrations in the book by Roland Sarkany, which really do depict events as they happen in Dr. Seward’s journal and take the form of truly beautiful black and white plates detailing some of the action in the story. Now, I have to say that in one sense the illustrations are an intrusion, because they do kind of break the fourth wall of the book, so to speak, by illustrating something which is being presented as fact, but there is certainly room in the premise to the extent that the fictional author of the story has prepared the documentation for publication... which presumably also meant him commissioning illustrations for this work. However you want to justify it though, intrusion or not, the illustrations are fantastic and give it another little lift which the various clues and artefacts found in the pages are also doing... making this tale a rare and tactile experience for people who like to really engage with a book in ways in which an electronic device can only hollowly mimic, without properly replicating the actual experience of holding this volume in your hands and working through the clues as they are presented.

At the end of the book, there is a sealed section with a few more pages, once it’s been clarified... and anyone reading this will surely know this is coming so I don’t think this would constitute a spoiler... that the fictional author has gone missing. The arrival at the publishers of the long letter, the contents sealed in the end section, is from the actual vampire of the tale and explains the connections and the full details of the web of deceit which you will find revealed to you as you read through the book. At the end of the day, there’s nothing truly revelatory about the contents of the sealed section if you have been paying attention throughout the story, but it does give a sense of closure to the proceedings and, although this end section probably wasn’t needed, it certainly didn’t detract from the content of the rest of the book and, all in all, I have to say that I had a really great time with this tome, which was an unexpected Christmas present.

Definitely recommended for lovers of the Dracula myth and for people who like minor puzzle solving. I’ve since found that the publishers, Quirk Books, have put out at least two more ‘interactive mysteries’ of a similar nature... one written by Sherlock Holmes’ Doctor Watson and another one which involves the early days of Bruce Wayne and his more famous alter ego, Batman. All I can say is, on the strength of this wonderful little journey of a story, those two are definitely going on my Christmas list this year. A lovely present and a corker of an experience, even if the mystery itself is perhaps a little too easy to solve.

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