Monday, August 11, 2014

Review: Randall Crane and the Whitechapel Horror, by Mark Weir

I am not a huge aficianado of the current swathe of vampire novels, although I did read Anne Rice in the early years. Because I am not familiar with the current trends in this genre, I cannot really comment on where this offering from Mark Weir fits. I can say, however, that this is not in the YA category. No sexy teen vampires here. Rather, this is a vampire novel in the more traditional vein, with sunlight-fearing, holy water- and wooden stake-vulnerable, rather smelly and decrepit vampire types. This is set in the latter part of the Victorian era in London, during the 1880s--not long before Jack the Ripper terrorised Whitechapel. The London presented here is itself decrepit and smelly, not to say a little vampiric.

Randall Crane, the title character, is himself a vampire, turned sometime in the previous century. He attempts to `live' a more noble life than many of his ilk, trying to avoid feeding on humans as much as possible. We are told of his conversion and a little of his back story, but most of the story takes place in 1880s London, where Randall finds himself investigating a series of vampire slayings--mostly of prostitutes--in cooperation with a detective, Thomas Grantham. He and Grantham strike up an unusual friendship. The villain of the piece is a nasty, ancient vampire rather incongruously known as Spring-Heeled Jack. Other villains lurk in the background, but I will say nothing of these to avoid spoiling the plot. Entangled with the murder mystery plot is another of political intrigue.

The book is competently written, with no obvious gaffs or clangers. Some of the scenes of the London of the day and the characters who inhabit it are quite evocative. Indeed, these minor characters are often more interesting and colourful than the leads. There are some well-developed scenes, leading up to key events. However, I would have to say that I found the final scenes rather predictable and `Hollywood'. The plot is a little slow to develop, and the narrative becomes bogged down at times in rather tedious dialogue. The writer is clearly trying to reflect what he imagines to be the style of speech of the day, formal and wordy. While I appreciate the effort, it becomes turgid at times.

Neither of the main characters, Crane or Grantham, really grew on me. Neither was as interesting and colourful as the minor characters, either the villains or their victims. Crane in particular is rather dull. The most interesting part of his story was the back story. But in the present he has little personality or character. Nor, in the end, despite the title of the book, is he the main character here. I think Grantham deserves that title. He is more interesting than Crane. Nevertheless, his personality is somewhat overshadowed by his role.

There are a few minor anachronisms in the story. There is reference to an emperor in France, but France had been a republic since 1870. Someone smokes King Edward cigars, decades before the Edward for whom they are named became king. Someone plays discs on a gramophone some years before they were invented. These are minor--but to someone like me--irritating oversights.

This is clearly the first in an intended series of books--yes, yet another--and the seeds for the sequel are rather unsubtly sown in the last few pages. If the series is to go forward successfully, I think the character of Crane needs to be made much more interesting, if not charismatic.

While some things weigh this book down, some of the well-written scenes and interesting minor characters lift it slightly. Three and a half stars from me, but I have to round it down to three for those sites that have yet to invest in half star icons.

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