"WHO WAS DRACULA? Bram Stoker's Trail of Blood," by Jim Steinmeyer, Tarcher Penguin, $26.95, 298 pages (nf)
"Who Was Dracula? Bram Stoker's Trail of Blood" is more of a history text, even historical bedrock, than a story.
So going in, it's best to be ready for lots and lots of background in a book that clearly shows the author, Jim Steinmeyer, has done his research. He even reviewed the actual notes Stoker kept about the original novel.
He explains how Stoker came up with the rules for vampires; how they live, how they must be destroyed, etc.
Is it too much information? Probably for everybody but the most serious of vampire fans. You've got to really want to know this stuff: How did Stoker create the character and introduce him to the stage with limited special efforts? How did his theatrical vampire morph into a genre that has been the subject of books, plays, movies, and cultures of fans with fanged teeth and mysterious lifestyles?
Steinmeyer says early on that the vampire story is a surrogate for sex, a way for readers forbidden to explore sex to be allowed to think about it.
"It's a way of providing a dark, tragic, important story to the usual teenage angst," he said in an author Q-and-A about the book.
He thinks Dracula's creator would be shocked at the many and varied incarnations of the character.
While it's interesting to examine the origins and reasons behind the creation — Oscar Wilde's scandalous life, Walt Whitman's poetry, the villagers of Whitby in Yorkshire, Stoker's real-life stage boss Henry Irving; they all became part of the vampire's seductive story — it also lends itself to topics many Mormon and devout Christian readers might find offensive, including references to lesbian and homosexual lovers.
The Dracula in this history is likened to temptation itself in that the bite's venom spreads until it takes over the victim — like corruption can take over an innocent person.
It's possible to get caught up in the gruesomeness and dark power behind the character. It's also kind of a downer.
Unless you really are dying to know how Dracula came about, keep moving. There are lighter and better books about this classic creature.
Sharon Haddock is a professional writer with more than 35 years experience, 17 at the Deseret News. Her personal blog is at sharonhaddock.blogspot.com.