(2018) Vivian Shaw, Orbit, £8.99, pbk, 400pp, ISBN 978-0-356-50889-4
Dreadful Company is the follow up to Strange Practice, a novel about a doctor called Greta Helsing (descended from those Van Helsings) who specialises in dealing with patients that other doctors cannot treat (and do not know exist). Her list includes the characters you would expect in a paranormal mystery – vampires feature heavily – but also includes a few that are a bit more unusual, such as mummies and ghouls. Although Greta is human and has no supernatural leanings, she is accepted within this secret world thanks to her medical skills.
At the start of Dreadful Company, Greta is in Paris for a medical conference with her close friend, the vampire Ruthven. An encounter with another vampire at the opera hints that mysterious things are afoot but neither Greta nor Ruthven think anything of it until Greta is kidnapped. She finds herself locked in a cell in a long forgotten maze of tunnels under the city and at the mercy of a group of vampires who are breaking all the unwritten rules of vampiring, leaving a trail of dead bodies in their wake and being generally indiscreet. It is then up to Ruthven to try and locate Greta and attempt a rescue.
Shaw builds an entertaining paranormal world, familiar enough to give the reader an easy slide into the story, but also different enough to give it a unique identity. I enjoyed her take on vampires as both good and evil. I also really liked the breadth of the world and the fact that Shaw goes beyond vampires and werewolves to bring in a wide variety of other creatures, something which is very entertaining and works very well. The story is about good v evil but not human v monster, as it is the character of the individual that decides which side of the line they fall on, not what type of creature they are.
Although these are mysteries, that element of the story is the weakest as Greta is a passive observer of much of it and as in Strange Practice, the mystery itself was solved when another character swooped in at the last minute to explain everything. There is enough in the world building and the relationships between Greta and her close friends to fill the gap that this creates, but I suspect that it may become more of an issue as the series progresses unless the mysteries become more medical in nature and Greta herself is able to solve them.
The romance between Greta and the vampire Sir Francis continues in this book, though its progress is gentle and slow, something which I found charming. Sir Francis is unsure of himself, a nervous suitor who has avoided women for a hundred years or so after having repeatedly failed in his attempts to woo them. It isn’t clear yet what Greta’s backstory is, other than that her job doesn’t really leave her with much time for romantic entanglements and is too difficult to explain, so she doesn’t bother. Varney is the type of vampire who can only drink the blood of a virgin without becoming ill, and I wonder if this will prove to be Greta’s status at some point in the future and cause more conflict for the couple.
Overall I would describe this as a great book for a lazy Sunday afternoon. I hope that there will be many more in the series.
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