Dexter and Morgan have never met, and yet they have been bound together by a secret over a hundred years old. Both young men share a birthday with a famous author, one Bram Stoker, born November 8th. It’s been one hundred and seventy years since Stoker was born, and the two men live one hundred and seventy miles apart. Both of them read the famous book when they were eleven, and both of them share the same belief that Stoker’s book was no mere work of fiction. They believe it to be a true story, that Mina and Lucy and Van Helsing were real people who, over a hundred years ago, lived and loved and fought the monstrous Vlad Dracula.
With the strength of their friendship and their shared obsession they are determined to find the answer, to follow the clues and find the actual journals of Mina Murray and Jonathan Harker, as well as the weapons used to kill Dracula. Their obsession may well be the end of them as, with every step closer they take to finding out the truth, they are being shadowed by misfortune. People involved in the mystery begin dying tragically all around them.
The deeper they get into the mystery, the closer they grow to one another. No longer just friends or fellow enthusiasts, they become lovers. Dexter is certain he would die for Morgan, he loves him so much and so deeply. Unfortunately, Dex may be asked to prove that sooner rather than later.
I loved the idea behind this book. The idea that one of, if not the most famous vampire novels could be based in truth, since Stoker did use real places and events as his inspiration, was absolutely wonderful. I dove into this book head first, but unfortunately ended up sitting in a very shallow puddle feeling betrayed. The author chose to emulate Stoker’s work by having the characters write as if they were writing in a diary. However, it takes a bit of finesse to make two characters who are writing the same story, witnessing the same events, and using the same journal entry format feel distinct and separate. However, had the author not listed whose diary entry I was reading at the beginning of each chapter, I’m honestly not certain I would be able to tell you who was talking at any given point.
When Dexter and Morgan were together, they were completely lost in one another and, I suppose, the mystery of the Stoker manuscript. However, there was far more time spent talking to each other, thinking about each other, and planning how to be with one another than there was over their supposed obsession. They were both so flat and unexcited about anything and everything that I found myself bored. Both Dexter and Morgan were also so stiff and had such monotone voices that I found it impossible to connect with them or even care when something threatened their lives. I kept having to force myself to put down other books I was enjoying and remind myself to finish this one.
Dexter’s father is busy and often away; his mother tries to be interested in him, but every time she asks him about his school or his friends, she guesses at the wrong classes or the wrong names and Dexter is quick to correct her with an air of self-important smugness. He flirts shamelessly with his straight friend, no matter how often Tim tells him he’s straight, and writes with a stiff, pretentious style. He’s often showing off with quotes or correcting people with a sort of intellectual insecurity that reads very much as if an 18-year old were writing it, sensitive of their new adulthood and yet still a ways from being emotionally mature. Morgan is a planner and a thinker and while his writing is a touch more formal in tone than Dexter’s, as I said, I could barely tell them apart. Morgan is more open about his sexuality, though he brings it up far less often than Dexter. He had a brief fling with a fellow school friend who was also gay, but politely dumped him after he and Dexter had their first real meeting because Simon didn’t make his heart thump. Simon was quite alright with this and offered to be Morgan’s best mate. In the next chapter or so, Dexter also made a gay best mate while on a climbing/camping weekend. Morgan couldn’t do something without it being mirrored in Dexter’s life, and vice-versa.
One problem I had with this story, having nothing to do with the actual plot, was when Dexter’s best friend, Tim, tricked him in a particularly vile manner into coming out of the closet (not that he was ever really in there. He was just careful not to get caught when giving blowjobs to his friends). [spoiler]Tim calls him into his bedroom, makes him admit he’s gay, and then kisses him like Dexter always wanted to… all so that the rest of their friends, watching over Skype or hidden in the closet, could yell and cheer. [/spoiler]The problem was, as horrible and wrong as this was … I didn’t care. And for someone who writes down every single conversation he’s ever had with anyone, Dexter barely mentions it other than to say he was upset.
And that’s, perhaps, the greatest problem with this book. In a diary format, it’s all tell and no show. The diary is also written by both boys as if they’re writing a novel, with everything they put down paced like a story and plotted like one. Scenes unfold with the deliberation and obfuscation of a mystery or thriller, but done in the diary format of two 18-year-old boys it becomes rather confusing. Why would Morgan not write down what’s happening in his journal? Why not write what he found, what he read, or what the quote was that he’s referencing? He writes as he does for seemingly no other reason than to keep us, the audience, more in the dark so we can be surprised by the plot, but in the world of Morgan and Dexter, who write down every last word of every conversation, every sensation of their lovemaking, the step-by-step mundanities of their lives… why leave something out? Especially something important about your obsession with Dracula and Stoker! It makes no sense and is, in its way, fourth wall breaking. It’s the author using the diary entries to move the story rather than the characters writing the story as it’s happening to them.
Add to that there is no change in tension or tone throughout the whole book. There’s no sense of excitement or dread, even as people are dropping like flies. They make progress with their quest and it’s recorded with the same care with which Dexter describes the theater building. Because both characters were so stilted and kept me at arm’s length, I was never able to warm up to them or to care about them or even to want to keep reading about them. It was very off putting, to be honest, and more than once I found myself very, very irate. The idea behind this is so damned good and so interesting and the story fell so very, very short.
There was even a thread, dangled tauntingly in front of us, about how Dracula — written in the 1890s — could have been a candidate for Jack the Ripper! The timelines are close and Dracula was a murderer; it was a stretch, but with a bit of work and imagination, it could have been a wonderfully plausible red herring. Unfortunately, again, the story didn’t do the idea justice. I loved the idea so very much, and was so let down by the book.
Diary entries, by their nature — fictional or real — are written by unreliable narrators who are heavily biased in their own favor. Neither Morgan nor Dexter showed any personality or preference, no sign of humanity or curiosity or human warmth in their dry recitation, word perfect, of events. The ending was abrupt and clumsy and very unsatisfying, and I was left relieved that the story was over rather than caring about what happened next. This is neither a bad book, nor a horrible one; it is a flat, dry, and dull book that offers nothing for fans of vampires, the paranormal, treasure hunts, or mysteries. At best, you might enjoy it as a tepid love story between two young men who share an obscure interest and like putting puzzles together.