In the 2016 horror novel My Best Friend’s Exorcism, Grady Hendrix tapped into the “satanic panic” fears of the 1980s with a story set in Charleston, SC, where a high school student must save her possessed best friend’s soul. In the author’s latest novel, The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires, Hendrix returns to the same Charleston neighborhood, but this time to a group of genteel housewives in the 1990s whose only source of entertainment is their monthly book club. That is until James Harris, a charismatic stranger, moves to town with big prospects for the upstanding families that seem too good to be true. And possibly it is, because there’s something strange about this new neighbor who has a condition that makes it difficult for him to be out in daylight, but only one person seems to suspect that something’s amiss.
Patricia Campbell is a former nurse turned housewife and mother of two whose workaholic psychiatrist husband ignores her, her kids take her for granted, and her demented elderly mother-in-law Miss Mary needs constant care. Her only excitement is her monthly book club, where she meets up with the other neighborhood housewives to discuss gritty true-crime novels. She even wishes aloud that something more exciting would happen in her community.
Enter James Harris. When the handsome stranger arrives in town with no ID, references, or living relatives to vouch for him, Patricia goes out of her way to help the newcomer set up his new life there. James seems to be able to persuade Patricia to do whatever he needs, even though the housewife has a nagging feeling that he’s not on the up and up and might possibly be dangerous. Her mind constantly wanders back to her past book club novels, where the group always wonders how it is that the friends and family closest to the criminal never suspected anything. Was she now living that scenario or was she just letting her imagination run away with her?
Fueled by her mother-in-law’s incoherent, yet persistent ramblings about James and a sudden rise in violent crimes to a lower-income community where Miss Mary’s home attendant lives, Patricia begins a dangerous investigation into her new neighbor’s secret activities. One she should definitely not go into alone. But convincing her fellow book club members to join her mission might prove to be difficult, as the women would rather ignore the obvious than face that the person they believe is their saving grace might just be the evil that’s infiltrating the area.
The story has the kind of upbeat, yet titillatingly suspenseful slow build of horror movies like Fright Night and Lost Boys that lulls you into a false sense of security. Surely no one in this idyllic southern town could possibly truly come into any great harm, right? Well, there’s a terrifying scene involving rats that would give Edgar Allan Poe a run for his money. Plus, this book is not your typical vampire tale, as its villain doesn’t seem to adhere to standard supernatural lore — he doesn’t wear a cape, sleep in a coffin by day, or woo the local women. Matter of fact, in this case, it’s really the men — and boy, are they assholes in every way — who are more lured in by James’s powers of persuasion and seductive promises of prosperity.
The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires is a refreshing new take on the vampire tale that’s as frightening as it is endearing, with plenty of blood, gore, and terror to go along with its southern hospitality.
A note on the cover and design: So far, every one of Quirk’s releases of Hendrix’s books has had a fantastic design, and this one follows suit. The cover, set against a black background, features two ripe peaches representing the American South, one of which has blood dripping from what appears to be a vampire bite. Beneath the jacket is a light green hardcover that complements the color of the leaves of the peaches. On the front is a black oval embossed stamp that reads “Town of Mount Pleasant *** Public Library – South Carolina” with the number 4436 on the outside right corner, indicating that this “Guide” is a library book. The inside title pages have a delicate black and white design that accurately depicts the two aspects of the story: flowers and coffins. The Part title pages throughout are all named for books that the title book club is reading, and the Acknowledgements section in the back is designed to look like a Christmas/New Year’s newsletter, complete with a shoutout to the impending Y2K! (Please let there be a Y2K spin-off in the works!!!)
From the publisher:
Steel Magnolias meets Dracula in this ’90s-set horror novel about a women’s book club that must do battle with a mysterious newcomer to their small Southern town, perfect for murderinos and fans of Stephen King.
Patricia Campbell’s life has never felt smaller. Her husband is a workaholic, her teenage kids have their own lives, her senile mother-in-law needs constant care, and she’s always a step behind on her endless to-do list. The only thing keeping her sane is her book club, a close-knit group of Charleston women united by their love of true crime. At these meetings they’re as likely to talk about the Manson family as they are about their own families.
One evening after book club, Patricia is viciously attacked by an elderly neighbor, bringing the neighbor’s handsome nephew, James Harris, into her life. James is well traveled and well read, and he makes Patricia feel things she hasn’t felt in years. But when children on the other side of town go missing, their deaths written off by local police, Patricia has reason to believe James Harris is more of a Bundy than a Brad Pitt. The real problem? James is a monster of a different kind—and Patricia has already invited him in.
Little by little, James will insinuate himself into Patricia’s life and try to take everything she took for granted—including the book club—but she won’t surrender without a fight in this blood-soaked tale of neighborly kindness gone wrong.