“Vampire Pastiche”: A Review of Gary Lee Vincent’s Darkened Hills

The following review was originally posted by Joey Madia on his New Mystics Review Blog at the following link:

(Burning Bulb Publishing, 2010, ISBN: 9781453844854)

I’ve always enjoyed just a little more works of fiction that take place in locales with which I am familiar. It adds something special when I can not only visualize a place, but have actually been there.

Having lived and traveled extensively in the northern half of West Virginia since moving here a little over four years ago, I found the locales in which Vincent places his vampires to be perfectly suited to both their peculiar sensibilities and those of their typical victims.

Darkened Hills is the first installment of Darkened—The West Virginia Vampire Series (the second book, Darkened Hallow, is now available. It’s sitting on my shelf, ready to be read). It is the 2010 Book of the Year Winner from ForeWord Reviews Magazine and shares a publisher, Burning Bulb, with The Big Book of Bizarro, which I also recently reviewed. Vincent was a contributing editor. He has published several non-fiction books as well as the novel Passageway and has a background and Ph.D. in Computer Information Systems. In addition to being an author, editor, and publisher he is also a recording artist, with three albums to his credit.

For Darkened Hills, Vincent draws heavily on Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Stephen King’s de-/re-construction of it, Salem’s Lot. Being that he is so up front and obvious about it, the way King was, makes it solidly a pastiche in the tradition of Nicholas Meyer’s Sherlock Holmes books or Kim Newman’s Anno Dracula, making it all the more fun to read, especially with its West Virginia¬–centric settings (including the fictional town of Melas, a mirror image of the real town of Salem. Yes. Salem. It fits.).

Each section or chapter opens with a quote from Edgar Allen Poe, many of them from more obscure works and all chosen for their appropriateness to what follows. I enjoyed reading them as much as the book itself.

Within its well-known framework and cast of characters, Darkened Hills, both by virtue of its unique setting and the imaginative mind of its author, manages to stand on its own in the town-is-demonized-and-disintegrated-while-unlikely-heroes-fight-the-forces-of-evil subset of the vampire canon, and it left me eager to read the sequel. It is well-paced, deft in its handling of multiple storylines unfolding at once, and Vincent knows the geography and the way it plays on the minds of its inhabitants quite well.

Speaking of the inhabitants, Darkened Hills runs the gamut from small-town and backwoods folk, to occultists, clergy, police, mental health professionals, and, of course, the guy who returns to his hometown with dreams of buying its weird old mansion just in time to find its been bought by a mysterious man (who we later find out is a vampire).

Peppered with just the right amounts of graphic violence and sex (less than, say, True Blood but more than Bram Stoker’s Dracula), the novel has appeal to the vampire story enthusiast as well as the more casual horror reader looking for a quick read with easily understood characters and an uncomplicated storyline.

Look for my review of the sequel to Darkened Hills in the next few months.

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