I can’t even start talking about vampires without saying this first: No, I was not obsessed with Twilight. Honestly, my exposure to stories with these bloodsuckers is limited, and it’s hard to tell what’s out there when the hypersexual versions of vampires cast a shadow on everything else, despite, you know, vampires not having real shadows. At a base level, I get that vampires aren’t necessarily supposed to be good, but I was completely unprepared for how terrifying they could be. That is until I encountered Grady Hendrix and his sweet tea tale of The Southern Book Club’s Guide To Slaying Vampires.
Patricia Campbell is a stay-at-home mom in a sleepy southern town. Her husband spends all his time at work vying for a promotion. Her kids, Korey and Blue, run free in that blissful era of the late ‘80s. When she’s not busy mom-ing, Patricia meets with her book club to read true crime novels featuring serial killers like Ted Bundy. Outside these stories, Patricia’s life is pretty boring, and she longs for a little excitement. However, things start to get weird when James Harris moves next door. The handsome stranger effortlessly charms his way into the lives of Patricia and her book club. There are some strange occurrences, but it isn’t until several children go missing that Patricia decides to take matters into her own hands. Unfortunately, she discovers James’ terrifying secret. Armed with unbelievable information, Patricia must convince her well-mannered book club to prepare for the fight of their lives.
I have an irrational fear of humans crawling on their hands and feet. It’s unnerving. I also hate cockroaches. BOTH of these fears came to life in The Southern Book Club’s Guide To Slaying Vampires. And that is only the beginning of the many horrors within these pages. There are even vicious R.O.U.S.es, but the Dread Pirate Roberts (insert fangirl sigh) wasn’t there to smolder all my fears away. I was expecting this story to zero in on the vampire and his dastardly deeds, but there were so many other disturbing scenes. The pacing of the book was fantastic, it made me uneasy enough to be wary but still found ways to shock me over and over again. Hendrix casually drops little elements of horror throughout the entire story, and it made my skin crawl. There was a simplicity in the way he wrote these moments. Hendrix got straight to the point and hit on the details that would ignite your base-level fears. This book is a guaranteed frightening read.
In case you couldn’t tell from the back cover, James Harris is a vampire. All creepy signs point to him immediately, and it’s obvious what role he plays. What form he takes is a horrifying note I’ll let you discover for yourself. Have fun and don’t forget your flashlight! This book is scary, and yeah, the vampire-ness freaks me out. But what’s worse is that Hendrix created a supernatural psychopath. It’s this extra, almost human, layer that James possesses that keeps me up at night. Hendrix crafted a creature so evil and cunning I felt powerless when reading. This isn’t a vampire who solely relies on his abilities to get his way. No. He meticulously seeps into the book club’s lives and manipulates their families all while victimizing Patricia in agonizing ways. This is where the story’s true terror lies. His actions are all too real, mirroring accounts of violence and abuse we see in the real world. It disturbed me to my core, and I appreciate Hendrix building out this character to be something more to fear outside the supernatural.
The one part of the book that felt out of place was Patricia’s son, Blue. There are a lot of periphery details about Blue’s obsession with Nazis. This is a topic that Blue and James bond over, but it’s mentioned in an offhand way. Hendrix may have intended to draw parallels between invasive Nazi ideologies and James’ insidious integration into the households. However, it’s not a clear connection, and much of the framing for James’ character is established through a true crime lens. Patricia relies on the knowledge she has gained from her book club and the killers making headlines to inform her decisions about James. Blue’s concerning idolization felt out of place and disrupted the story. I’ll file this away as another horror element Hendrix included to push me off-kilter.
There is so much more to The Southern Book Club’s Guide To Slaying Vampires than its horror elements. It’s a love letter to mothers, their tenacity, and the great lengths they are willing to go to keep their families safe. Don’t underestimate the homemakers who spend their days managing life behind the scenes. They’re the only ones that see what’s really going on, and we need them to keep the vampires at bay.
Rating: The Southern Book Club’s Guide To Slaying Vampires – 7.5/10