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The Bloody Red Baron

Kim Newman

Carroll & Graf

US Hardcover First

ISBN 0-7867-0252-4

358 pages; $21.00

Reviewed by Rick Kleffel © 2001



Horror, Science Fiction

04-18-02, 09-11-02, 10-08-02, 11-13-02, 12-13-02

Despite its premise that vampires came out into the open when Dracula invaded England in the late 1880's, Kim Newman's 'Anno Dracula' was more of an 'alternate history' than a 'vampire novel'. This is even more true of 'The Bloody Red Baron', a sequel set in the same world nearly 30 years later, in 1918. On the other hand, this is certainly an alternate history with teeth, and enough of the red to more than live up to its title. As an alternate history, it's filled to the brim with a mixture of fictional and real characters. Every scene is embroidered with recognizable names, and as the novel begins, it seems at times distracting. But, as in 'Anno Dracula', Newman manages to invest his main fictional and real characters with enough verve and artistry to bring them alive beyond the printed page, to make them real beyond the myriad associations they hold for the reader. And his plot-driven wonders go far beyond the thrill of seeing familiar personalities in ironic situations. Newman's strife-filled alternate Europe is remarkably reminiscent of today's map of despair, and his quick tour of Bosnia and Serbia is especially chilling.

Newman's protagonists in this novel are Edwin Winthrop, a 'warm' (living) young intelligence agent drawn to become a vampire but unwilling to go the length, Kate Reed, a radical journalist who became a vampire 30 years ago and helped send Dracula packing out of England, and Edgar Poe, hired by Dracula to write the glorious biography of Baron Manfred Von Richtoven. While Winthrop and Reed risk their lives to find out exactly what the Bloody Red Baron's secret is, Poe is ushered into the heart of Dracula's obscene experiment, whining continuously and entertainingly about his state.

Throughout the novel, whether he's describing a battle between World War I vintage aircraft, or recounting the sad, sordid history of Mata Hari, Newman's historical research rings resoundingly true. He seamlessly interlaces fictional characters into realistic settings, and in doing so, creates some incredibly horrific scenes. Edwin finds Doctor Moreau with his friend and student, Doctor Herbert West, operating on wounded vampires in a subterranean emergency ward just behind the front lines. Newman is certainly not one to let his history lessons get in the way of splatterpunk-style scenes of horror.

But more importantly, he's not one to let either his familiarly with history or his flair for the grotesque get in the way of his story or his characters. Dracula's experiment with the Red Baron is truly majestic, but it is Edgar Poe's perceptions and personality that carry the narrative. And, while Edwin's sleuthing unearths the monstrous and the profane, it is his struggle to overcome the monster within himself that grips the reader and keeps the pages turning. Surprisingly, Newman is even able to finish his story in a relatively modest amount of space, no mean feat in this day of seemingly endless novels and series. 'The Bloody Red Baron' is best read after Newman's earlier 'Anno Dracula', but thankfully doesn't end on a cliffhanger for the next novel set in Newman's fabricated universe. It's self contained and satisfying, the perfect way to slake any reader's red thirst.