Winnipeg Free Press column, May 2010

Dracula the Un-Dead (Penguin, 591 pages, $14) is a rousing and occasionally very frightening sequel to Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

Authors Dacre Stoker and Ian Holt, working from Bram Stoker’s handwritten notes, have taken his characters and crafted a new story, set a quarter century after Dracula.

Not only do they continue the story of Mina Harker, Jack Seward, Prof. Van Helsing, and Dracula himself, they introduce new elements, such as an un-dead countess (based on a real person) and a clever solution to the Jack the Ripper murders.

The novel is very well written, and it has an excellent pedigree: Dacre Stoker is the great-grandnephew of Bram, and Ian Holt is a Dracula scholar. A splendid novel.

— — —

Speaking of literary spinoffs, And Another Thing … (Penguin, 340 pages, $18) is a new novel in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series by Eoin Colfer, the Irish author who’s better known as the creator of the Artemis Fowl novels for young readers.

The story, which follows on from the last of the late Douglas Adams’ original Hitchhiker novels, takes Arthur Dent, Ford Prefect, Zaphod Beeblebrox, Trillian and other returning favourites on an interplanetary adventure that perfectly captures the spirit and tone of Adams’ writing.

If you’re a fan of Adams’ novels, and you’ve been afraid this new one wouldn’t measure up, don’t panic: it does. Read it today, and you’ll be laughing for weeks.

— — —

If laughter really is the best medicine, then Christopher Moore’s Fool (HarperCollins, 330 pages, $15) will cure whatever ails you. It’s a riotously funny — and frequently ribald — retelling of the events in Shakespeare’s King Lear, from the point of view of Lear’s fool.

Moore, who lives in Hawaii and San Francisco, tells a wonderfully convoluted story of love, lust, ambition, revenge and subterfuge. His narrator, the fool named Pocket (because of his physical stature), is a delightful creation, clever and conniving.

The familiar characters from the play — Lear and his daughters, for example — are vividly drawn and, in an odd sort of way, consistent with the people Shakespeare created four centuries ago.

— — —

When Matthew Reilly, the Australian author of several bestselling thrillers, was asked to write a short novel as part of a government-sponsored literacy campaign, he came up with Hell Island (Pocket, 123 pages, $8), a fast-paced story about an American special ops team that parachutes into terror.

The setting is an aircraft carrier anchored off a remote island in the Pacific Ocean; the mission, to find out why the military has suddenly lost contact with the island and the carrier.

As Capt. Shane Schofield and his comrades soon discover, the reason is more frightening, and more deadly, than they could possibly have imagined.

This is a story that grabs you from the first page and keeps you glued to your seat. It’s a lot shorter than Reilly’s usual fare, but not that different otherwise. Reilly’s novels usually move at a brisk clip, and they usually feature muscular heroes, nasty villains and plenty of surprises. A quick and highly enjoyable read.

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