When Dracula Pays a Visit to Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina
Updated: Aug 1
The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires
By: Grady Hendrix
I know what you’re thinking. This has got to be an odd pick, especially for me. Honestly, if I’m going to read 52 books this year, I definitely need to change it up a little. This week’s book certainly changed things up. I think the cover sums it up, two southern peaches with teeth marks and blood spilling; this was definitely going to be a juicy one. It was a quick read that had my heart beating right up until the end. One important warning; don’t read this book at night.
Penguin Random House describes this book as Steel Magnolias meets Dracula and I think this description is spot on. The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires is a comedy, satire, and horror story all tied into one. Horror stories are usually not my thing. When I was 10 years old I went to a family friend’s house and while our parents were having dinner their older kids made me watch Halloween. I never recovered, and still have nightmares about Michael Myers coming to get me. It was so bad that my mother, who had very little patience for these things, had to sit outside my door until I fell asleep every single night. Obviously, I am not one for scary movies or stories, and yet, I couldn’t put this book down. It was scary, but it was also funny and a little bit ridiculous.
The story begins with Patricia Campbell, a wife and mother of two who has recently moved to Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina. Her family has moved to the neighborhood of Old Village – a place where the houses are pristine and southern hospitality is at its best. She and her husband Carter moved to Old Village because it was a place where their family could put down roots with their two children Korey and Blue. Carter’s ailing mother, Miss Mary eventually comes to live with them as well.
Patricia is a former nurse who gives up her career when she marries Carter, her psychiatrist husband. Like many of us with former careers, she doesn’t understand how she used to be able to accomplish hundreds of tasks in a day and now can barely get all her household tasks done. So, when Patricia gets invited into a book club, at first, she thinks that she could not possibly have the time to read on top of everything else in her life.
Her Literary Guild of Mt. Pleasant book club eventually evolves to a smaller version with four other women and their book topics are murder stories. Helter Skelter, The Stranger Beside me, In Cold Blood, just to name a few. These women thrived on these stories. It was almost as if their lives weren’t exciting enough so they needed to read about these horror stories to spice them up a little. Patricia looks forward to her book club evenings and finds that the four other women soon become her closest friends and confidants. Patricia, Kitty, Slick, Maryellen, and Grace meet once a month and discuss their spicy thrillers.
The book takes place from 1988 through 1997 and none of these women have careers. All of them are mothers, caregivers, and housewives. Their husbands value them but expect them to keep the house clean, have dinner on the table, make sure the kids are taken care of and they don't want to hear any complaints because in exchange they are given the wonderful and pretty life in Old Village, SC. Yes, it’s sexist, but I think that is exactly what the writer wants us to think, after all, it was the late 1980s, and the Me-Too movement was still thirty years in the future.
One of the book club members, Grace, keeps track of every new car in the neighborhood. She keeps them all logged into a notebook where she writes down the license plates, the make/model of the car, and any other pertinent information she may need in case there was ever an investigation of a stranger in their “parts”. You can see how these women definitely read too many horror stories.
One day a white, unfamiliar van with Texas license plates moves into the driveway at old Ann Savage’s house down the block. The women are told that Mrs. Savage’s nephew has moved into town to take care of her because her health is failing. The women do not like the looks of this van and so, of course, it is logged into Grace’s notebook.
Soon after, Patricia is taking out the garbage one night and is brutally attacked by Mrs. Savage. The attack is so vicious, that Patricia loses an ear lobe and is hospitalized. After the attack, Mrs. Savage dies. No one can understand what overcame the old woman. One of my favorite lines in the book is while Patricia is encountering this attack and says to herself, “I drive carpool, I’m in a book club. Well, it’s not really a book club, but it’s essentially a book club. Why am I fighting an old woman in my front yard?”
Once released from the hospital, Patricia puts herself together, gets herself made-up and dressed, and makes a casserole for Mrs. Savage’s nephew. She wants him to know that there are no hard feelings and wants him to feel welcome. I think if I ever lost an earlobe in a brutal attack in my backyard, I might hightail it to Alaska, pronto.
Patricia goes to Mrs. Savage’s house to deliver the casserole and lets herself in because that is just what you did in Old Village. No one locks their doors and everyone is always welcome. It is on this occasion that she meets James Harris, Mrs. Savage’s nephew. James is well-traveled and well-read and Patricia feels that he is the most interesting thing that has happened to her in years. She soon invites him to be part of her book club.
As the story unravels, we discover that James is not who he says he is and Patricia makes it her mission to figure out exactly who and what he is. This is when things start to get a little bloody for this group of housewives. Old Village may never be the same.
If you’re a Southerner, you will enjoy this book’s overwhelming display of Southern Hospitality. The Southern traditions of oyster bakes, crabbing, and Clemson/Carolina football games where everyone in the neighborhood stops life to sit down and watch. These traditions make the South the iconic place that it is and you will enjoy being reminded of them.
For everyone else, my advice is that you try this book. You will find that reading it at night will scare the living hell out of you, but reading it during the day will amuse you a bit and entertain you a lot. And who doesn’t need a little bit of entertainment right now?
I vowed at the beginning of this year that I would read all kinds of books, not just your standard fiction. This book definitely fits the mold of different. After all, it is “a blood-soaked tale of neighborhood kindness gone wrong.”
Boo Daddy, Boo Daddy
One, two, three
Sneaking in my window
And sucking on me.
The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires
By: Grady Hendrix
Publication Date: April 7, 2020