Detective Sergeant Nathaniel Brannick is a tortured soul with an unusual supernatural power: the ability to touch a dead body and see the last moments of the person’s life. A nice trick for a crime-solving detective, particularly in late 19th Century London, where modern forensics techniques are not an option. Brannick’s life at the start of the story is sad, as he deals with the recent death of his wife from Tuberculosis (Consumption), and his own illness that figures to end his life painfully in the near future. To cope with the pain of her final days, Brannick secured illegal opium for his wife, and now he partakes nightly in smoking the “tar” in order to ease his own pain and escape from his own anguish. Not a traditional hero.
The story provides an explanation for Brannick’s unusual post-death visions as he meets a pair of witch-hunters who are tracking an evil demon. The demon is never identified as a “vampire,” but the offspring of Vlad from Romania, whose victims drink human blood and have super-human abilities, certainly fit the bill. There is even a reference to Renfield, the escapee from an insane asylum, although the character is not developed or used. The Dracula references are, however, unmistakable. Brannick is visited by spirits, his dreams are haunted by visions, and he has actual battles with the undead. Beware the cemetery at night!
There is action, blood, betrayal, a tinge of romance, and a puzzle to be solved all woven together through the lens of Victorian England. The writer presents three different first-person narrators to recount the story, which creates a bit of confusion but creates a very personal story. The language of the book also re-creates Victorian England with an Arthur Conan Doyle feel filled with rich similes and detailed descriptions. You can smell the horse manure. Even if you don’t love the paranormal/fantasy story line, the texture of the prose makes the story compelling.
There are a few hiccups in the plot, and unfortunately the text is sprinkled with far too many copy-editing errors, which distract. The baseline plot is a fairly conventional vampire yarn, with the unique addition of the brother/sister demon-hunters. There are several plot threads that get lost, or are simply never relevant, but in the end the core story is compelling.
For fans of period writing, fans of vampire stories, and readers looking for an unconventional hero, this book will be satisfying and worth reading.