I’ve always been a huge vampire fan — I watched my first Dracula movie when I was about 8-10 years old, on TV, one of the vintage Hammer films with Christopher Lee. I read the original novel when I was a teenager and was a fan of the Marvel comic versions as well. Since then, I’ve read a zillion vampire novels, read more comics and watched a ton of vampire movies and TV series — Dark Shadows, Buffy and more. My favourite Dracula will always be Lee though I’ve also appreciated Lugosi, Louis Jordan and especially Jack Palance. The more romantic versions by Gary Oldman or Frank Langella have always left me a bit cold.
I prefer my vamps menacing rather than cuddly, although I can manage it when a cuddly vampire is embedded in a more evil vampire milieu, like Angel and Spike within the Buffyverse. A couple of my favourite vampire novels include the brilliant Fevre Dream by George RR Martin and Anno Dracula by Kim Newman and the underrated Blood of the Impaler by Jeffrey Sackett. Some more recent ones I’ve enjoyed include Fat White Vampire Blues and it’s sequel Bride of the Fat White Vampire. I’ve tended to stay away from the current crop of vampire romance.
Not so much recently, but I’ve also read a fair bit on the historical and cultural aspects of Dracula and vampires: In Search of Dracula: The History of Dracula and Vampires, American Vampires: Fans, Victims, Practitioners, Hollywood Gothic: The Tangled Web of Dracula from Novel to Stage to Screen, A Dream of Dracula: In Search of the Living Dead and Vampires, Mummies and Liberals: Bram Stoker and the Politics of Popular Fiction. You get the picture.
This is all to say, I’ve come to Mark Collins Jenkins’ Vampire Forensics: Uncovering the Origins of an Enduring Legend as an experienced vampophile.
The stated purpose of Jenkins’ book is to explore the scientific, historical and cultural roots of vampire myths and legends, and given all that I’ve read before on the subject, I have to say he’s done a pretty good job of it. Not great, but good.
I think part of the problem is that he goes into too much historical detail on the various myths and legends of various countries and time periods without directly relating them to more concrete forensic or anthropological details. It’s not so much Vampire CSI as Vampire TMZ.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that — there isn’t. In fact, Jenkins does a good job on the historical material, making stuff that might be dry or boring very lively and interesting. He has a good sense of humour and shows flashes of understanding about how slightly absurd and ridiculous the whole project is (and I mean absurd and ridiculous in a very positive sense, of course), but I think the promise of the title is a bit more balance on the science side. There are some chapters that deal with possible diseases that could have started the legends (ie. porphyria), as well as epidemiological investigations of how the Black Plague may have been the root, but overall I was hoping for more.
Overall, a very entertaining book, if slightly mislabeled. I really appreciated the very fine bibliography, one that would be well worth looking at for anyone wishing to build a collection on vampire and related folklore.
One unfortunate typo that made it through the copy editing, in fact one that was probably introduced by the author’s or editor’s spell checking software, is rather amusing. On page 48, refering to the original novel, Collins mentions that Lucy Westenra comes back as the “Blooper Lady” when of course it should be “Bloofer Lady.” Rarely is a blooper so appropriate.
I would definately recommend this book for anyone interested in vampire folklore as a great place to start their investigations. It would also be a good pick for most larger public library collections. As for academic libraries, unless there were particular courses or programs that the book would be relevant for, I would probably give it a pass.
Jenkins, Mark Collins. Vampire Forensics: Uncovering the Origins of an Enduring Legend Washington: National Geographic, 2010. 303pp.