Mark Harris
Vampyrrhic Rites
Editor: Simon Clark
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Price/Pages: 504pp/£18.99hb

Deep in the heart of rural North Yorkshire, a band of sinister creatures roam the wind-swept moors and isolated villages, terrorising bewildered locals and performing bizarre, blood-soaked rituals. For in the unholy triangle between Whitby, Leppington and Morningdale, Goths are on the rise. Can anything save fey hotel owner Electra Charnwood and guileless art student Dylan Adams from falling into their black-nailed, lace-clad clutches? Just when all appears lost, mysterious gurglings from the nearby waters of Lazarus Deep raise the spectre of an even greater threat, the resurgence of an evil thought to have been banished from the Earth years before: New Romantics. Oh, alright then, vampires.

For this is the sequel to Clark’s 1998 sharp-toothed Vampyrrhic, re-uniting its reluctant Van Helsings in a battle against a new batch of the undead. Don’t worry if you haven’t read the first instalment, as Clark eases you gently into the story, bumping off well-sketched minor characters in suitably gruesome fashion and indicating his heroes with big red arrows. Mysterious e-mails and vague feelings of dissatisfaction soon blossom into fully-fledged portents and presentiments, and even if you overlook those, there’s no avoiding the eldritch ravens and storms that punctuate significant events.

This is old-school horror written by a new wave expert, and while Clark often misses the opportunity to flesh out his characters and story, he never passes up the chance to run his claws down your spine. The plot races forward with all the subtlety of a postal worker on a shooting spree, and with a similar hit rate. Clark paints his corner of Yorkshire with a brush as dark and rich as Lovecraft’s, then splashes the canvas with an unconvincing Shining-style interlude featuring a tortured ageing rock star. As Rites lurches towards a conclusion, Clark reaches increasingly deep into his bag of literary tricks, pulling out doppelgangers, Norse gods and finally Night Of The Living Dead. It’s high energy writing, but like all the best rollercoaster rides, part of the thrill comes from realising it could collapse at any moment.

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