Book: “The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires” by Grady Hendrix
Publishing Info: Quirk Books, April 2020
Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.
Book Description: Fried Green Tomatoes and Steel Magnolias meet Dracula in this Southern-flavored supernatural thriller set in the ’90s about a women’s book club that must protect its suburban community from a mysterious and handsome stranger who turns out to be a blood-sucking fiend.
Patricia Campbell had always planned for a big life, but after giving up her career as a nurse to marry an ambitious doctor and become a mother, Patricia’s life has never felt smaller. The days are long, her kids are ungrateful, her husband is distant, and her to-do list is never really done. The one thing she has to look forward to is her book club, a group of Charleston mothers united only by their love for true-crime and suspenseful fiction. In these meetings, they’re more likely to discuss the FBI’s recent siege of Waco as much as the ups and downs of marriage and motherhood.
But when an artistic and sensitive stranger moves into the neighborhood, the book club’s meetings turn into speculation about the newcomer. Patricia is initially attracted to him, but when some local children go missing, she starts to suspect the newcomer is involved. She begins her own investigation, assuming that he’s a Jeffrey Dahmer or Ted Bundy. What she uncovers is far more terrifying, and soon she–and her book club–are the only people standing between the monster they’ve invited into their homes and their unsuspecting community.
Review: Thank you to NetGalley for sending me an eARC of this novel!
While it’s certainly not up there with my favorite vampire movies, I really do have a soft spot for “Fright Night”. The original, not the new one. There’s just something about it that is so cheesy and 80s, but also feels very sinister and menacing. That’s probably because Chris Sarandon’s Jerry Dandrige is so outwardly charming when he’s a literal monster next door. It’s a great example of suburban horror, as suburbs were created so affluent white people could flee the dangerous city to feel safe, when danger is everywhere. Even in the handsome bachelor next door. If you took “Fright Night” and mixed it with “Steel Magnolias”, you would get Grady Hendrix new horror novel, “The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires”. It’s no surprise that Hendrix would be the one to make that combination into one of his quirky horror novels, as his offbeat and campy scary stories have true elements of terror. “The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires” almost dethroned “My Best Friend’s Exorcism” as my favorite of his works. And you guys know how much I love “My Best Friend’s Exorcism”.
The quirkiness and humor is a bit of a given with Hendrix’s stories, and “The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires” is no exception. It’s very funny at times, and has it’s tongue planted in cheek, though it does take itself seriously enough to create some legitimate scary moments. Our main character Patricia is an awkward and goodhearted book worm who loves to read tales of the macabre, as her husband is patronizing and her kids take her for granted. So she and her Southern Belle lady friends focus their book club on books about serial killers, murder, and other creepy things. I found Patricia relatable in some ways, mostly her general anxiety and her love of creepy books, and I liked how she is easy to root for, but also has flaws that are deeply human. Her initial encounter with James, the new neighbor, is right out of a horror movie, as she catches him in a trance of some sorts and his reaction is basically to scare her to death. But Patricia’s been raised in a culture (Southern, white, 1990s) in which she is more inclined to doubt herself and her own perceptions of James when he comes by later and just seems so nice, and so gregarious, and takes interest in her and her interests when her family does not. In fact, in contention for biggest SOBs up against James the vampire (more on him in a bit) were the husbands of the book club members, as they ranged from patronizing and gaslighting asshats like Patricia’s husband Carter to actual spousal abusers. And once Patricia starts to question if James is more dangerous than he seems, the men in the story are more inclined to believe the new man in town over their wives and any suspicions that they may have. It’s a tale as old as time, and it added an entire layer of suspense to this book that made my blood boil and had me concerned for Patricia.
The vampire mythos that Hendrix has created for this story is centered around James, the deadly but enticing neighbor. Hendrix has created an original set of vampire rules for James, some of which are rooted in various folklores and some that feel totally original. Like Chris Sarandon in “Fright Night”, he’s the perfect villain because he just seems so wonderful, when he’s actually a vampire that is killing children in an impoverished part of town that is mostly black people. While some of the ways that Hendrix took on this part of the story felt a little clunky when it came to the racial issues at hand, I did appreciate that he wanted to talk about the fact that, indeed, in a situation like this the greater community of Charleston probably wouldn’t notice or care too much if these were the people being victimized. And he doesn’t spare Patricia and her book club friends from criticism in this way, as they are taken to task for their places of privilege in relation to the people that James uses as initial victims.
I did have one big hang up with this book, however, and this is what knocked it down from a serious contender for top Hendrix novel. This is a mild spoiler, just to get that out there. There is a moment in this book that involves the implied rape of one of the characters, and the fallout thereafter. This moment was used as a way to up the stakes within the story, and I am so very sick of authors using rape in that way. There were plenty of other ways that Hendrix could have really reiterated how dangerous the situation had become, so to be like ‘ah, I’ll just use rape for that’ is something I am completely sick of. We can do better.
Overall, I thought that “The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires” was a very fun and entertaining read. Grady Hendrix has once again written a scary and funny horror novel, and I am happy he continues his streak of cheeky horror triumphs.
Rating 8: An original, eerie, and deeply funny vampire story from the master of quirky and cheeky horror, “The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Vampire Slaying” is both scary and amusing!
“The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Vampire Slaying” is included on the Goodreads list “2020 Horror to Scream For”.
Find “The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Vampire Slaying” at your library using WorldCat!