Verdict: E.J. Powell’s DARK HEALER returns readers to the days of Bram Stoker, when men feared and lusted after the feminists they believed would lay waste to their beloved Victorian Age. But despite using the well-worn cliché of the seductive vampire woman, Powell is able to pump some life into the vampire novel with page-turning suspense.
In the 1970s, the Dracula films went from portraying the Count as utterly evil (and thus justifying the gruesome manner in which Van Helsing destroyed him) to a sympathetic figure that is still with us today. Rather than dilate on his nasty habits and evil machinations, movie-makers then and now made Dracula a tragic, even pitiable figure who, in pre-vampire days, lost the love of his life. In the Gary Oldman version, the Count found her reincarnated in the form of Mina Murray; and rather than victimize her as he did in the novel, he selflessly refused to bite her, until she practically begged him to.
But, in the Oldman version was another side to the Count; one that took its cue from the much-regarded German expressionist film, Nosferatu (1922). Against his enemies/stalkers, he assumed the bat-eared, rodent fanged, yellow-eyed image that, as with Nosferatu, was what a creature that slept in coffins and drank blood would “realistically” look like.
E.J.Powell takes the romantic Dracula image and applies it to a female vampire who has the power to seduce even a male character bent on making all vampires extinct. The vampire hunter, Colt, believes the only good vampire is a staked and/or decapitated vampire. In doing so, Powell is paying homage to Bram Stoker, who, despite his fears that the “new women”—read feminist—of the 1890s were going to destroy his beloved Victorian Age, where men were moral, and women even more so, recognized their take-charge seductive appeal. He infused this sexual threat in barely-clothed vampire women and the take-charge masculinity of Victorian men melted—men wanted to be ravished.
Powell subscribes to that notion, but with not with quite so much heat. Colt, the relentless vampire hunter of the novel (like the Batman, his hatreds stem from witnessing his parents’ murder) has his consciousness raised about vampires via the female vampire Helena, discovering that not all vampires are evil, and that lurking behind the scenes is something much worse. Powell’s Helena is on the surface Stoker’s perception of vampire women—gorgeously seductive—but this being the 21st century, she must be complex and on the whole good.
Without giving too much away, Powell taps into the notion, at least dating from the Kennedy Assassination, that there is an invisible string-pulling conspiracy in the world that pits their puppets against each other, and thus said conspiracy is able to continue their behind-the-scenes work. But she also, from the same era, uses the “Vietnam” effect, in which events cause those so sure of their mission to question it, and in the process discover that the world is not quite so black and white. Colt has the same wake-up call. Thanks to Helena, he discovers his mission is not quite so simple, and that along with the truly evil vampires he “killed,” some innocents were also destroyed.
Powell’s achievement in this excellent thriller lies in how she takes all of these well-worn notions and makes them seem fresh. We get romance, but not of the bodice ripping kind; horror, but not with standard vampire villains, but something, actually worse; humor, but never approaching camp— an approach that has been used in vampire films before; and an integrity about what she is writing that makes it all the more believable.
~Ron Capshaw for IndieReader