The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires
Author: Grady Hendrix
Page Count: 404
Publisher: Quirk Books
Publishing/Release Date: Apr 7, 2020
Summary from Goodreads: Fried Green Tomatoes and Steel Magnolias meet Dracula in this Southern-flavored supernatural thriller set in the ’90s about a women’s book club that must protect its suburban community from a mysterious and handsome stranger who turns out to be a blood-sucking fiend.
Patricia Campbell had always planned for a big life, but after giving up her career as a nurse to marry an ambitious doctor and become a mother, Patricia’s life has never felt smaller. The days are long, her kids are ungrateful, her husband is distant, and her to-do list is never really done. The one thing she has to look forward to is her book club, a group of Charleston mothers united only by their love for true-crime and suspenseful fiction. In these meetings, they’re more likely to discuss the FBI’s recent siege of Waco as much as the ups and downs of marriage and motherhood.
But when an artistic and sensitive stranger moves into the neighborhood, the book club’s meetings turn into speculation about the newcomer. Patricia is initially attracted to him, but when some local children go missing, she starts to suspect the newcomer is involved. She begins her own investigation, assuming that he’s a Jeffrey Dahmer or Ted Bundy. What she uncovers is far more terrifying, and soon she—and her book club—are the only people standing between the monster they’ve invited into their homes and their unsuspecting community.
TBR List: October 2020
The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix is not what you think it is. this book has been marketed as “Fried Green Tomatoes and Steel Magnolias meets Dracula…” I am here to tell you that is a bald-faced lie. This book is a horror story through and through, and not just because of the depictions of violence and gore either. It explores themes of misogyny, racism, and classism in details that often had me slamming the book shut in anger.
Be warned, this book has a long list of triggers: rape, attempted suicide, gaslighting, blood, gore, graphic violence, violence against animals, etc. I could go on, but I think you get the picture. Just this trigger warning list alone should tell you what a far cry it is from the sweet Southern ladies depicted in the likes of Steel Magnolias.
This review will have minor spoilers for the book because, unlike most reviewers, I find it difficult to discuss books without context. You’ve been warned!!
Like the most subversive of horror stories, this book starts out innocently enough. The reader first meets the main cast of characters at a book club in an affluent neighborhood of South Carolina during the early 90’s. The Literary Guild of Mt. Pleasant sees the main women of the book – Patricia, Kitty, Grace, Slick, and Maryellen – seated in the prim living room of the Guild’s leader while Patricia panics over not having read this month’s book. She decides this book club isn’t for her after the ordeal. So, when Kitty stops Patricia on the way to their cars and offers an alternative book club, Patricia decides to join.
Kitty’s idea of a good book club is to read true crime, such as books about the Manson murders and In Cold Blood. Initially, all the other women are reluctant to read such scandalous material – Slick even convinces the other women to let her husband think she’s attending Bible study meetings. But, over the course of about four years, the women develop an unlikely friendship given their disparate personalities and backgrounds.
So, when a stranger moves into the neighborhood, and strange, violent incidents begin to happen in the once peaceful town, the book clubbers take notice. However, it couldn’t possibly be the charming new neighbor, James Harris, causing this mayhem could it? Not the man who is slowly ingratiating himself with the men in the community. Not the man who can’t go out into the sunlight because a strange medical condition that leave him lifeless in the middle of the day. Not the man who seems to always come to Patricia’s rescue right when something horrifying happens to her. No. Never him.
Meanwhile, children are disappearing and killing themselves in the nearby black community, and no one is batting an eye. James Harris’s cleaning lady has disappeared. A 9 year old girl kills herself. An old woman bites off someone’s earlobe. Another old woman is killed by a swarm of swamp rats. All of these things happen before the reader even reaches the book’s half-way point. Then, just when things seem to be neatly resolved, just when all of this obviously has to be brought before the police, Hendrix pulls the rug out from under us.
So when Patricia finally feels she has enough proof against James Harris to do something about what is going on and try to take their suspicions to the police, it’s a shock when they’re stopped, gaslighted, and abused by their husbands for nearly causing them so much embarrassment. In fact, Patricia’s husband who is a psychiatrist goes so far as to prescribe her medication in an attempt to “help” her which shortly leads to her attempting suicide by downing the whole bottle.
At this point, as a reader, I was thinking, “Surely something new will happen and no one will be able to deny the fact that James Harris is pure evil and a monster. He can’t possibly get away with causing so much mayhem, horror, and violence….can he?” Well, I would be wrong too. Because at this point the book jumps forward in time three years!
For three years James Harris wines, dines, woos, invests, and ingratiates himself with the community – specifically, the men in the community. Meanwhile, the nearby black community has nearly been abandoned due to the number of disappearances in the area. These disappearances continue to be ignored throughout the book by everyone but Patricia who has become a cowed shadow of her former self in an attempt to make up for her suicide attempt.
The latter half of the book focuses on Patricia’s “wake up call” as I like to call it. She finally realizes that nothing and no one will stop James Harris if she doesn’t try to stop him. She gets back in touch with Mrs. Green who used to care for her ailing mother-in-law as a home health nurse but is now cleaning James Harris’s house. Mrs. Green arranges for Patricia to sneak in to James Harris’s house to search for evidence against him (boy does she find it).
With concrete proof and a plan, Patricia convinces almost all of the members of the book club to help her stop James Harris once and for all, but not without many consequences. The monster is stopped, but at a very high cost. The only happy thing to come out of the ordeal is a divorce if that tells you anything.
This book does have a slow start, but once it gets going it’s very very good. I impulsively rated it five stars right after reading it, and I’ve almost changed that rating a few times. The rape scenes and violence are graphically depicted, and the story really does end on a bit of a downer. However, the main thing keeping me from changing my rating has been the fact that this book has stuck with me. I haven’t stopped thinking about it in the week since I’ve finished it. Yes, it has a few problems, but this book is just so real.
I believe these things could happen. James Harris doesn’t have to be a fictional monster to be evil. He’s subversive, violent, and charming, which is a dangerous combination plenty of people possess, and we call them monsters without them being fictional.
I think anyone who believes they can handle reading about the triggers I mentioned before should give this book a shot.