It’s 1920s glamour days and librarian Peter Hilliard really wants to be a man of worth, so he can be worthy of his love, Donald Fitzhugh. Peter and Donnie met several months ago on an Egyptian adventure that turned deadly. Peter had been recruited to the Peculiars, a cadre of brave gay men, for his ability to read dead languages. Now, after that adventure, Donnie wants Peter to stay with him, living a quiet, but lavish, life in Douglas’ mansion, but Peter’s too proud to be a kept man. Peter’s quest for financial stability leads him to the Carpathian Mountains of Romania, to the isolated castle of Count Polidorus, to catalog an ancient library. He makes a friend on the train, Yvgeny, who is a native of that area and urges him not to go, telling him the castle is cursed, but Peter won’t be swayed; he wants to earn his own way.
Meanwhile, Donnie traveled with Peter as far as London, but he won’t head back to Paris again—not after his near death in the catacombs some years before. While awaiting letters and the return of Peter, Donnie pines for his lover and curses himself for not accompanying Peter; after all he’s a learned man, himself. They could have finished the job faster together. While at his leisure, Donnie meets Dr. Haworth, who helps run a compassionate asylum for the mentally unwell. It is through one of Haworth’s patients that Donnie learns Count Polidorus could be a blood-thirsty monster and Peter is most definitely in grave danger.
Peter’s finding out the depths of evil into which he walked, eyes wide open, like a lamb to slaughter. The ancient and creepy Count essentially locks Peter into a monk’s cell of a room, only allowing him access to the library. Peter’s focus is so intense, he’s willing to overlook all the weirdness just to earn his fortune as fast as possible. But, he can’t forget the hungry fascination Polidorus showed the moment he saw Peter’s photo of Donnie in his “cell.” Peter is sustained on paltry rations, until the Count disappears and Peter is locked in altogether—only to escape into a bigger nightmare than he’d imagined.
The Shadow of the Count is the second book in the Peculiars series. If you haven’t already guessed, this is a M/M retelling of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. And, wow, I really enjoyed this imaginative take. All of the key players are represented, excepting Van Helsing, because it’s the Peculiars who will save the day. The trials and danger Peter and Donnie face, both alone and together, are a crucible burning their love into a pure and fearless experience. Peter is repentant about his choice to seek his fortune, since it’s wrought so much destruction—and personal loss when the Count brings his pestilential self to the shores of England. He is searching for a replacement lover to his long-dead beloved, a man resembling Donnie, but the Peculiars are already assembling and are getting up to speed on how to help. Donnie is distraught over the strange experiences he encounters, but the return of Peter is a balm. Unfortunately, it’s short lived and bittersweet, as their quest to kill the vampire has a high toll. Expect death of a secondary character and debilitating injuries to some of the Peculiars. The ensemble cast is fun, and there’s amazing camaraderie and banter. Four of the six are now happily partnered, and we seem to have an accessory couple forming from attendants on this mission.
Readers looking for a gothic monster story retold with a M/M romance must absolutely read this book. I adored it and highly recommend for anyone who enjoys historic/gothic stories, an ensemble cast, or action-packed, M/M romances. There is a lot of quirky, light banter and great cohesiveness in the Peculiars to keep the pace quick and interesting. Two more books are planned for this series, and I’m eagerly awaiting them.