Desmond Stewart, The Vampire of Mons (Harper and Row, 1976)
[originally posted 11Jun2001]
Stewart’s short and simple tale of an English prep school on the brink of WW2, and its new eastern European music teacher, is one of those books that could have been a minor classic. It’s hard to tell what it is that would have changed it from what it is to what it could have been; a sharper editor, a writer of slightly different temperament, perhaps a scene that should have been set differently or a point that should have been made more, or less, subtly. One way or the other, it’s still not a bad book, and one worth killing a few hours with.
The book centers on Clive Swinburne, a seeming descendant of the devil of Victorian poetry who is quite common in everything; by coincidence, he arrives at Malthus, a prep school on the southern coast of England, with two other boys, both of whom are far more accomplished and popular than he. The three immediately meet the new music teacher, Dr. Vitaly, and from the outset there’s a battle for the friendship of the other two new students between their peer and the music teacher. Over time, Clive, swayed by Vitaly’s origins and under the influence of World War II-bred xenophobia, becomes convinced that Vitaly is a vampire, and starts to see the test of wills as a crusade to save the lives of his friends.
Stewart writes with a hand that’s never too heavy, refreshing in a book so obviously about the dangers of hating those who are different than you. But, as I said, there’s something, however minor, that seems missing from this otherwise fine book. I’ve no idea what, though. ** ½