The Ocean at the End of the Lane – Neil Gaiman // Dracula’s Heir – Sam Stall

Geez, I should make a new category named “Sorry-I-Didn’t-Post-This-On-Fiction-Friday-Sunday”. Or something to that effect.

Last week I read two books (both quite short). First was Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane.

“It began for our narrator forty years ago when the family lodger stole their car and committed suicide in it, stirring up ancient powers best left undisturbed. Dark creatures from beyond the world are on the loose, and it will take everything our narrator has just to stay alive: there is primal horror here, and menace unleashed – within his family and from the forces that have gathered to destroy it. His only defense is three women, on a farm at the end of the lane. The youngest of them claims that her duckpond is an ocean. The oldest can remember the Big Bang. THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE is a fable that reshapes modern fantasy: moving, terrifying and elegiac – as pure as a dream, as delicate as a butterfly’s wing, as dangerous as a knife in the dark.”

I’ve read two other books by Neil Gaiman so far – Coraline and Stardust – both of which I greatly enjoyed (I also love their respective movies), and I keep saying I want to read more of his work. So I was pretty stoked when Ro bought me his latest novel and I must say it did not disappoint.

Several people in my publishing class commented on it when they saw it: one person really liked it, another said she couldn’t get past the first 10 pages. Personally, I thought it was excellent. Really, any book that has a suspicious suicide in the first 10 pages has to be good, right? It started out realistic – a man coming home from a funeral who visits his childhood home – and ends with a battle against a supernatural foe. There’s probably a ton and a half of metaphors in there, but even at face-value, it’s fascinating.

One thing I love about Neil Gaiman is his way with words. I’d be the happiest aspiring author in the world if I had even a tenth of his power over language. The details – regardless of subject matter – are beautifully done: at one point, the protagonist pulls something out of the bottom of his foot, and I swear my own foot tingled in the same spot because the description was so realistic.

The ending is quite sad – bittersweet yet poignant – but the more I read (and I suppose you could say the older I get), the more I appreciate and respect authors who don’t take the traditional “happy ending” route. Verdict: I can’t wait to read more of Gaiman’s work!

The other book I read was Sam Stall’s Dracula’s Heir: An Interactive Mystery.

“In 1897, Archibald Constable & Company published Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the most famous horror novel of all time. For reasons still debated by scholars, the first chapter of Dracula was cut from the book just weeks before publication. Here, it becomes the central clue in a spine-tingling original interactive mystery.
Dracula’s Heir begins 10 years after the horrific events described in the original novel. Jonathan and Mina Harker are happily married and enjoying life in Bixby, England. Meanwhile, their friend Dr. John Seward is tracking a string of crimes that seems eerily familiar: A 14-year-old girl sleepwalks out of her parents’ house and disappears into the night. Two “accident victims” are found drained of their blood, yet there is no crime scene evidence to explain its loss.  
This chilling mystery novella features 8 removable clues, including a newspaper, a death certificate, Renfield’s private journal, and the original first chapter of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. When you think you’ve solved the crime, you can open the final signature (sealed at the printer) to test your powers of deduction.”

I picked this up a few months ago when (sadly) the Chapters at Runnymede was closing and their bargain books were 50% off. I like Dracula (and vampires in general) plus the idea of an interactive mystery was very intriguing (it basically seemed like a grown up version of the Jolly Postman which was one of my favourite series as  a child). Regrettably, I found out much later that I was missing at least 2 clues (including the sealed solution at the back of the book) so that was annoying, but it didn’t deter from my overall enjoyment.

I figured out early on “whodunnit” (and why) and, while I don’t have the last clue to tell me if I’m right or wrong, I’m happy with my own deductions (or so I tell myself, even though I just spent half an hour trying to Google the answer). It was a fast read, and some of the clues were ingenious (including the aforementioned first chapter of Dracula). I haven’t read the original novel in a while, but there was enough detail about each of the characters to understand this new plot.

Of course, I’d recommend that if you’re picking this one up, please make sure you have all the clues before you walk away from the store. Also, if you happen to know what was said in that last sealed note, please share!

EDIT: I actually looked at another copy the last time I was in a bookstore and it turns out I do have the last clue…the envelope at the back was ripped so I assumed something fell out, but it had actually be closed around the last chapter. So never mind, I know what happened! Yay!

There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about:

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