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Dunraven Road by Caroline Barnard Smith

01/05/2010. Contributed by Pauline Morgan

Buy Dunraven Road in the USA - or Buy Dunraven Road in the UK

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pub: Immanion Press, Stafford, England. 248 page enlarged paperback. Price: 11.99 (UK) $20.99 (US). ISBN: 978-1-904853-65-7.

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Sometimes it is a relief to find a book that contains real vampires. You know the kind I mean - dark, devious and very dangerous to know - rather than the fluffy kind that can turn a girl's head and promise undying love for eternity. That is what is at the heart of 'Dunraven Road', although it is some time before they reveal themselves.

The thrust of the book, though, is the waywardness of youth and what happens when boredom sets in. The setting is a small isolated country village, somewhere in Britain (not that there are any such any more). Zach is a malcontent and a troublemaker. He has inherited the village shop after the deaths of his grandparents but doesn't see himself spending the rest of his life there. He wants more. He has ambition. He is also a dissolute drug dealer. He has come across a source of a drug called red. It is addictive and gives the user an amphetamine buzz. By various means, he has turned most of the village youth into users. He leads them into becoming the disciples of the demon goddess Lilitu. He is also cruel to his girl-friends, getting pleasure from cutting them. When he sells the shop and buys a decommissioned church, Zach holds wild parties where excesses of alcohol, red and sex are encouraged.

Mixed up with the craziness is Sapphire. She is Justin's girlfriend, but once had a relationship with Zach. She never quite got over being dumped by him and still sees herself as being in love with him. She will willingly take any abuse from him if it means getting him back. When she is in the throws of a red high, she can sometimes see the future or through the masks of others. The other principal character is Paul, an artist. He is in love with Sapphire but she only sees him as a friend.

As the debauchery intensifies, strangers appear in the village, insinuating themselves in Zach's affairs and encouraging him in his ambition to become immortal by futilely sacrificing his girlfriend, Kirsty. Sapphire is sure there is something wrong about them but is too much in thrall to Zach to do much about it. Paul, having been saved from self-destruction by Sapphire's prompt actions after a vision, intends to return the favour by rescuing her from the fate Zach has in store for her.

There is much to admire about the compactness of the writing as it progresses towards its increasing bloodiness towards the denouement, but as with most first novels, there are a number of problems.

Right from the start it has been noted that there have been a number of simulated vampire killings in Dunraven Road. They have made the papers but there are no press snooping around. It is only when Kirsty goes missing that any police turn up. They walk into the local pub, ask if anyone has seen the missing girl and walk out again. When 'death spread amongst the rest of Dunraven Road's' elderly population' as quoted on the first page of chapter one, it would be reasonable to expect the police to be crawling over the rest of the book. It is also surprising that so many young people, enough to fill a church to bursting, managed, not only to get to this remote place but did not have family and authority pursuing them. Most of them would have dropped off the friends' and families' register as they camped out in the church, stoned and drunk, some of them for a month or so. The central plot sequence and the reactions and motivations of the central characters are well-handled, it is the peripheral elements that could have done with more attention.

Pauline Morgan

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