By all accounts, Bela Lugosi didn’t have a happy ending. Career missteps, financial problems, addiction and bad health followed the actor to his grave in 1956.
There are a flock of fans who would rather forget about Lugosi’s final days and remember instead his better days—back when he was Count Dracula, the iconic bloodsucking smooth operator. For these fans, Never Cross a Vampire by author Stuart Kaminsky helps rehabilitate Lugosi’s tainted reputation and romanticizes his twilight years. And you know what? That’s okay with me.
The story begins when Boris Karloff contacts a private investigator named Toby Peters. Karloff is worried about his old friend. Someone has been playing games with Lugosi for over a month, sending messages written in animal blood through the mail saying, “He who mocks the vampire deserves his fate” and “Respect what you represent or suffer for it.” Most recently, someone mailed Lugosi a hat box containing a bat with a tiny stake through its heart. It was an old Hollywood story: Movie stars being harassed by over zealous fans.
Clues point toward the Hollywood lair of the Dark Knights of Transylvania, a secret and exclusive organization dedicated to the vampiric lifestyle. Peters figures that one of these wannabe vampires is probably responsible for baiting Lugosi. He’s right.
But who can it be? Is it Count Sforzni, the leader of the coven? The sexy Morticia Addams doppelgänger? The somber owner of a Cantonese restaurant? Or the elusive sun-deprived librarian? Maybe it’s Doctor Vampire, a stand-up comedian who dresses in Dracula drag during his nightclub shows?
The Lugosi case eventually intersects with a seemingly unrelated investigation involving William Faulkner. The famous author (currently in Hollywood working on a project for Warner Bros.) is accused of murdering a talent agent. The Faulkner case appears to be just a distracting subplot until the P.I. realizes that he’s the one linking the two mysteries together.
The denouement comes late one night in a haunted house during a thunderstorm. In a surprising (not surprising) twist, it is Bela Lugosi, as Dracula, who brings the culprit(s) to justice. “Just another effective performance,” says the stately actor with a big self-satisfied grin on his face.
[Never Cross a Vampire / By Stuart Kaminsky / First Printing: January 1980 / ISBN: 9780312564711]