With summer approaching, you might be looking for something fun to take to the beach, and Vivian Shaw’s first novel in what is going to become a Greta Helsing series would be a fine choice. Set in contemporary London, this novel introduces us to Dr. Helsing, daughter of the famous Dr. Wilfert Helsing and doctor to the monster community. Mummies, ghouls, vampires (and vampyres— there’s a difference) all know they can count on Greta and her staff to ably and discreetly guide them back to health. Yet something sinister lurks the streets of London, something more monstrous than any monster Greta has known. This presence is committing murders, setting all of London on edge, threatening the monster community and Greta Helsing.
Greta is a young woman with her own private practice tending to monsters. She is assisted by the witch Nadezhda and a nurse practitioner, Anna, who is part Rusalka. She also makes a point of checking up on family friends Ruthven (a vampire who has lived for centuries but looks young and lives very comfortably) and Fastitocalon or “Fass,” a demon who has lived forever but looks gray and middle aged. These fellows, despite their rather frightening backgrounds, are tender and dear friends to Greta. When Ruthven calls Greta with an emergency, she does not hesitate to make a house call, and in this particular case there is more at stake than the life of an injured vampyre named Varney. Varney was attacked in his home by men cloaked like monks with burning blue eyes. Not only did they smear the walls with garlic — a sort of poison bomb — they stabbed Varney with an unusual blade dipped in some sort of poison. Vampires and vampyres self-heal rather quickly but Varney is dying. Greta is able to use her medical skills to help Varney while Ruthven calls on another family friend, a young man named August Cranswell, who works at the British museum. Together, and with help from Fass, they determine that the blade belonged to some ancient order of monks, but who are these people cloaked in brown, how did they get this type of weapon and what are they after? It’s not long before they find out that the mad monks are after Greta and her friends, but who are they and whom do they serve?
Greta and company have to turn into detectives of a sort to track down answers. Meanwhile, the monks continue their murderous spree and threaten those closest to Greta. I really did enjoy the characters in this novel. Ruthven is a cultured and wealthy man who, it is hinted, has had an interesting and dangerous past. Varney has been through terrible times and has a sometimes ferocious nature that he has to work to keep in check. Both possess incredible physical strength as well as the power to hypnotize, which will come in handy. Cranswell is a non-monster with an academic background who can show unexpected nerve when called upon. And Fass has a past that he mostly doesn’t discuss, but he can get into Greta’s head (at her invitation only) and has the ability to camouflage himself and others. All of their skills will be put to the test in order to discover who their enemy is and how to defeat it.
Overall this was a fun read. While the explanation of the forces behind this mayhem was a little underwhelming and occasionally confusing, I felt that the development of the main characters and their relationships was quite rewarding. I have to give credit to a writer who has me rooting for monsters and demons to emerge victorious! They are fascinating characters, full of wit and charm with hints at big reveals regarding their histories to come in future novels. File this under brain candy. And yes, I’ll have some more.