Writer: James Reese
Publisher: William Morrow (2008)
Pages: 350 p
Bought at: Periplus Setiabudhi Bandung (IDR 35k, bargain price!)
When you read the title of this book, please don’t expect any Dracula will show up inside the story. Because this is a story about the creator of Dracula, Bram Stoker, and his encounter with the legendary serial killer, Jack the Ripper, which inspired him to write his most famous novel to date.
Bram Stoker was a good writer, surrounded by successful writer friends, but sadly never achieved the same level of success as his friends. His career was stuck as a manager in Lyceum Theater, owned by the abominable Sir Henry Irving, and literally worked like a slave there. Stoker was frustrated with his life, until one day, he met a strange and peculiar man, who was a friend of his best buddy Henry Caine (also a famous author). The mysterious man, Tumblety, showed up when there were series of murder happened in Whitechapel (the “red light district” of slum London). Stoker suspected Tumblety related to the tragedies, and he determined to solve the mystery, especially because Tumblety has made his life (and Caine’s life) miserable.
This book was written in the form of dossier – Bram Stoker’s collections of letters, journals, newspaper clippings and other documents related to the story. A bit boring in some parts, but interesting and authentic looking in others. Reese tried to portray Stoker as a dark, desperate guy with unhappy marriage and stagnant career. His encountered with Jack the Ripper (albeit fictional), was used by Reese as a focal point in Stoker’s life, his inspiration for the famous Dracula (who, think about it, has serial murder characteristics).
At first, this looked promising, a great premise, since Reese made Stoker’s character quite believable. His frustration of life, for example, that almost lead him to suicide when he was in his lowest point, was pretty convincing.
Those dank cellars to which the mind and soul do sometimes descend
… is how he described his situation in his letter to Caine.
But when Reese played with supernatural issues – Egyptian secret ceremony, demon and devil possessions, that’s when he lost me. Why? Why can’t he made the story like an old plain historical fiction with some juicy mysteries? I can’t help but to compare this book with The Sherlockian, which, by the way, also has Stoker as the sidekick of Conan Doyle. They both have famous and legendary authors as the main characters, with murder mystery as the setting, but…totally have different take.
Why the supernatural stuff? That’s the question that I kept on asking while reading the rest of the book. I was a bit disappointed with how the story unfolded. Although I would still recommend this book to any mystery/historical fiction/Bram Stoker fans out there, I will need to warn them not to put their expectation too high on this one.
In the end, Dracula is the only thing mattered if you mention Bram Stoker’s name. Sadly, this book can not prove otherwise.
Some sources mentioned that Bram Stoker actually got the idea to write Dracula from the character of Henry Irving, who was his boss for quite a long time in Lyceum Theater. Stoker had a fairly complicated relationship with Sir Henry, and this is one thing that Reese can capture well in Dracula Dossier.