As these are “unprecedented times” (by which I mean a year without Eurovision), here’s a book review: the new novel by the great horror writer Grady Hendrix, in which a true crime-obsessed book club in South Carolina encounters a real-life vampire.
Hendrix has a strong track record writing about women in menial jobs: a (haunted) IKEA in Horrorstör, a Best Western in We Sold Our Souls and pizza delivery in the movie Satanic Panic. Here his housewife characters pull the perfectly hoovered rug from under this idea by making their role far from menial; it’s ultimately their abilities as God-fearing, book-devouring mothers that make them the only people equipped to thwart a vampire. “I wanted to pit Dracula against my mom,” Hendrix writes in the foreword. “As you’ll see, it’s not a fair fight.”
Spanning almost a decade (1988-1997), the novel starts at the kind of fascistic book club where you’re actually expected to read the thing, culminating in a palm-sweatingly funny scene that’s sure to trigger anyone who’s ever tried to blag their way through pretending they’ve done the reading (students, book clubbers, Donald Trump). Frustrated, the women start a splinter group devoted to trashy crime books and horror fiction, in which Hendrix happens to be an expert. So when a mysterious stranger asks to be let in, the ladies have their suspicions, while their husbands blame the books for rotting their brains.
A terrifying transfusion of horror, comedy and heart, The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires shows that there’s life left in the vampire genre, which Hendrix uses as a vessel for sharp social satire and gore strong enough to put the most hardened book club off their cheese straws. Every single line is funny, scary or both, and Hendrix’s love for his characters and the genre comes screaming off the page. Perfect for your next Zoom book club, or making you look weird enough to ensure people keep their safe distance.