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ANNO DRACULA 1999 DAIKAIJU ***
Written by Kim Newman.
RRP: £8.99 336 pp

Out now from Titan Books.

 

If you ever wanted to know what DIE HARD would be like if it took place inside a building shaped like a giant dragon, and had fewer European terrorists and more vampires, then Kim Newman's latest entry in his ANNO DRACULA series is a good place to start. However, that's just one small facet of a novel that also manages to incorporate samurai schoolgirls, a werewolf police inspector and, most surprisingly, references to Frank Stallone. Unfortunately this chaotic hodgepodge of inventive ideas and quirky plot points never quite coalesce in to a satisfyingly whole in Newman’s enjoyable, though ultimately frustrating, tome of pulpy vampire frivolities.

 

The story takes place in Tokyo 1999, on the eve of the Millennium, at a lavish New Year’s party thrown by glamorous celebrity vampire Princess Christina Light inside her impressively imposing Daikaiju building (which Newman translates as meaning ‘bloody huge fucking monster’). This period setting gives Newman the chance to name check the Millennium bug, Prince and, in one particularly entertaining aside, Peter Mandelson (who we are informed could turn in to a fog and seep through keyholes). There’s soon trouble afoot when a terrorist cult that believes life is a video game, and also Dracula’s slightly more handsome brother and his mercenaries, gatecrash the festivities. So our mixed bag of leading heroes and antiheroes must fight to make it safely through to the 2000s including; Nezumi (a sword wielding vampire teen), Detective Yoshitaka Azuma (a hardboiled cop who has fangs in his knuckles and likes giving perps a good thumping), Richard Jeperson (a member of the supernatural crime fighting Diogenes Club, searching for the meaning of a mysterious mark on his body),and Harold Takahama, (a hacker who wakes up with a wiped memory and a talking robotic left hand that is prone to jealousy). If you think all of this sounds fun, well it is, but it’s also quite exhausting as those are just a small selection of the multitude of unusual characters and situations we encounter throughout.

 

This is the seventh instalment in Newman's long running ANNO DRACULA series (including his short story collection), and it also shares the same universe, and some characters, with his two DREARCLIFF GRANGE books. However, it’s the first that I’ve read and perhaps that was unwise as I found it quite hard to get in to. The world was easy enough to understand without prior knowledge; it’s an alternate history version of our own in which vampires now co-exist amongst humans and this has subtly, and sometimes not so subtly, changed culture (’The Vampyre of Dibley’ and ‘Ridley Scott’s Vladiator’ exist in this universe). However, I found the characters a little underdeveloped and hard to care about, and this likely may have been remedied if I’d read their prior adventures.

 

I'm an admirer of Newman's excellent non-fiction writing, his book on horror NIGHTMARE MOVIES is a must read, but unfortunately his encyclopaedic knowledge and indulgence in pop culture references becomes a detriment to his fiction writing here. The flow of the story is constantly interrupted by minor tangents and unnecessary back-story titbits that fail to develop the characters in any meaningful way. There are so many promising ideas that would make fantastic fleshed out stories, such as Azuma being resurrected as a vampire because he’d accidentally checked a wrong box on his union medical plan, but they are tossed away in a sentence. No idea, or character, is given the chance to be fully explored because Newman appears too eager to move on to the next homage or jokey conceit. I wish he’d occasionally slowed down and let ideas develop. Ultimately, it ends up feeling more like a detailed and entertaining production bible for a great TV series rather than a fully formed novel in its own right.

 

If you’re a fan of Newman’s fiction you will enjoy ANNO DRACULA 1999 DAIKAIJU, as there are enough good jokes and entertaining set pieces. However, if you’re new to Newman I’d recommend perhaps starting at the beginning of this series as this not the best place to begin. It’s not a bad book by any means, but for me it never quite came together and the missed potential was disappointing.

 

Reviewed by John Upton.

 

 

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