Monday, May 12, 2014

Harry Dickson: The Heir of Dracula

Author: Unknown

Adaption: Jean-Marc & Randy Lofficer

First Published: 1933 – 1936

Contains Spoilers

The Blurb: Miloska, white as a sheet, pressed herself against the portrait of the saint as if she was begging for her protection. From out of the brush, a man slowly approached her. A man! No, it was a wraith! It had a dark, hate-filled face in which burned two hideous red eyes!
"The man from the portrait," muttered Tom Wills.
"Count Ion Nedelcu Dragomin, the Heir of Dracula, the Red-Eyed Vampire!" said Dickson.

When inhuman monsters walk the Earth, threatening the good and the helpless, Justice has no stronger defenders than Harry Dickson and his assistant Tom Wills, who fight the forces of evil and cast them back into the Darkness from whence they came.

Harry Dickson began as an unauthorized Sherlock Holmes pulp series in Germany in 1907, before changing its name and morphing into a hugely popular saga in Holland, Belgium and France, with 178 issues published between 1927 and 1938, especially after it was entrusted to the editorship of Belgian horrormeister Jean Ray.

This volume includes three original episodes and one short story:

The Heir of Dracula: From the rat-infested swers of Limehouse to the dark forests of Bavaria, Dickson hunts for the mysterious red-eyed vampire, Count Dragomin.
The Iron Temple: Deep beneath London, monstrous creatures engage in bloody sacrifices in their amazing, futuristic lair.
The Return of the Gorgon: A beautiful but deadly woman who may be a reincarnation of Medusa has the power to turn men to stone.
The Curse of the Crimson Heart: Meet Dickson's mentor, armchair detective Mortimer Triggs.

This famous Holmesian pastiche has been translated by award-winning authors Jean-Marc & Randy Lofficier and includes original cover illustrations and a foreword about the Harry Dickson phenomenon.

The Review: Harry Dickson – the American Sherlock Holmes – was a pastiche of the great detective, whose stories were popular through Holland, Belgium and France (and, I understand, Dickson is still popular in France). Indeed he started life out as Sherlock Holmes, in a flagrant disregard of copyright, and elements remain in the Dickson stories of the 30s such as his address being 221B Baker Street.

This volume, by the wonderful Blackcoat Press, contains three longer stories and a short and – from a TMtV point of view – we are interested in the first (and title) story: The Heir of Dracula.

The story begins after Dickson has captured Ebenezer Grump – the serial killer dubbed by the press as the Red-Eyed Vampire. Gump is in prison in the small town of Hildesheim awaiting execution but Dickson has doubts about the case and when the Warden asks him to come the detective is quick to answer the summons.

Dickson believes that, after showing devastating cunning during the chase from England, Gump suddenly became too easy to capture in Hildesheim and wonders if another intelligence was guiding him? When Dickson and his young protégé Tom get to the town – that has its own “haunted house” owned by a Transylvanian family – they discover that Gump has asked for garlic flowers and is terrified.

We discover that someone can become a vampire is they are killed by a vampire, and this means killed in any way, not just bitten. Thus the vampire tries to take the place of the executioner in order that he might curse Gump but Dickson foils his plan. The chase eventually leads to the edge of the forest of Bohemia as they look for the two hundred years old grave of Count Ion Nedelcu Dragomin (the heir of Dracula). Is he really a two hundred years undead vampire? For that information you will have to read the story but there was a cracking piece of lore in the book.

I have already mentioned the turning principles and we discover that staking is a way to stop a vampire’s predations and garlic a way of warding them. However it is the grave dirt they put in their shoes I was taken with, or more exactly why they put it in their shoes. It is suggested that the cross of a headstone locks a vampire in its grave and so, by putting dirt from their grave in their shoes they remain (technically) in the grave and thus can travel abroad.

The stories are pulp – make no mistake – the detective work is almost secondary to the fantastique elements. There are, in other stories, people being turned to stone, human monstrosities, underground bases made of unknown materials and a plethora of semi-supernatural and science fiction elements. It makes it all a great diversion if you remember that it is only supposed to be pulpy fun. 6 out of 10.

The Blackcoat Press page is here.

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