by Bram Stoker
Year published: 1897
Category: classic thriller
Jonathon Harker, a proper English businessman, travels to remote Transylvania to conduct a transaction and finds himself a prisoner of the world’s greatest fiend. Escape from the castle, however, does not free him from the nightmare which follows him home…
Wow. There are reasons why a hundred years later, the classic vampire tale still resonates so strongly with so many people.
The original Dracula story is more gripping, more horrifying, than you might expect. Using contemporary Christian ideas about a fate truly worse than death, Bram Stoker raises the stakes for his characters to a gut-wrenching level. One scene in particular (involving a stake through a woman’s heart inside a wretched tomb) gets my vote as the single MOST AMAZING scene in all thriller history.
On the bummer side, Dracula was written a long time ago and the old writing style is a real stumbling block for modern readers. You will need some discipline to immerse yourself in the dated, formal language, and to get used to the odd device the author used of telling the entire story as a series of journal entries written by the characters, a patently ridiculous and unbelievable device in the context of the fast, emotionally-charged action. Your effort will be well-paid, however. You may think you know Dracula, but few of the modern plot distillations and scene excerpts do justice to the intensity of the original. Bram Stoker knew how to write scenes that you won’t forget.
SPOILER ALERT: Plot summary to follow.
Harker escapes back to London but loses his mind and must be nursed back to health by his devoted wife, Mina. Mina’s dear friend Lucy, who is beloved by three heroic men (the successful suitor, Lord Godalming; the Texan, Mr. Morris; the psychiatrist, Dr. Seward) is preyed upon by some mysterious wasting disease. Van Helsing, an elderly Dutch physician, is called upon to study the case. He knows that vampires are real but keeps his secrets until late in the story. They mystery of Lucy’s blood loss allows dramatic scenes in which each of her suitors give her transfusions of their own blood. Dracula contains so many iconic scenes: the arrival of the vampire’s ship in a storm, the dead captain chained to the wheel with a rosary in his hand, and a wolf leaping ashore; the madman Renfield in Seward’s asylum who eats life (flies then spiders then bird then cat…) and has a special connection to Dracula; the perfection of the slain woman contrasted with the scenes when they find her undead and attacking children, then the huge scene at her grave. Mina Harker, the ideal woman, is portrayed as strong and smart. As a 19th century female she must also be vulnerable, yet the men’s attempts to shield her backfire. The scene where Mina is rendered utterly unclean and destined to undeath is SO good. The stakes are now raised higher than imaginable: she MUST NOT die for she will lose her soul. Interestingly, she develops a weak psychic connection to Dracula, and can see and hear what he does (in the fashion of Harry Potter!). A strong heroine, she proves herself as capable and brave as the men, who track down the locations of all of Dracula’s coffins but one, setting up a desperate international chase that leads back to where the story began.
Chosen by International Thriller Writers as one of the Top 100 Thrillers of all time.
If you can handle the writing in this book, test your mettle with: The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas