Review by: Mark Palm
As I have noted before Vampires are "in." Actually Vampires are so "in" that I am sure that they are now "out". Now Erzsebet Bathory, the Countess Bathory isn't a vampire. She was a true seventeenth century Hungarian noblewoman who was tried and convicted of the murder of countless peasant girls, for the purpose of staying young by bathing in their blood. Since her legend is often credited with starting many of the clichés that are central to the vampire mythos I am not at all surprised to see her story told.
House of Bathory by Linda Lafferty uses the story of the bloody countess as one of its central pillars. That narrative, of The Countess, her evil cohorts, and the servants who lived in fear, and the few who stood up to defy her and eventually cause her fall, are told in this book in alternating chapters. This seventeenth century tale is gripping, but I found the other narrative threads better, and more suspenseful.
Those are the stories of Elizabeth Path, a modern day analyst living in Colorado, and her mother, Grace an historian specializing in Eastern Europe and planning on writing a book about the aforementioned Countess. The mother goes missing however, in Slovakia, and Elizabeth along with her ex-husband decide to search for her. They are joined by a patient of Elizabeth's, a teen girl named Daisy who is a Goth, and seems to be obsessed with Elizabeth and her treatment. Things get even more complex with the addition of the Countess's modern relatives, a detective from Scotland Yard, and Daisy's psycho sister, Morgan.
Now I found the modern storyline more interesting than the old one. The old one is tense, well-researched and written, but lacks a certain drama because we know the inevitable outcome. Ms. Lafferty shows some skill in keeping it interesting despite this. The modern storyline is very strong, and consists of a dizzying pile of plot twists. Often in thrillers having too many coincidences robs a narrative of its believability, but Elizabeth, like her father before her, who died under suspicious circumstances in Eastern Europe ,is a Jungian therapist, and they both were enthralled by the doctor’s The Red Book. Ms. Lafferty uses the Jungian theory of synchronicity aptly, allowing her to ring change after coincidental change upon the plot while implying that it might all be a matter of mythical archetypes. It's a bold move, and one that pays off, enabling Ms. Lafferty to ratchet up the tension to a nearly unbearable degree.
One of my only complaints with this book is the title. I seldom like to play Monday morning quarterback while reviewing a book, but if I could make a single suggestion to Ms. Lafferty it would be to jettison the title. House of Bathory seems so ponderous for such a taut and tense novel. I would have gone with The Red Book, but I am really just nitpicking here. It's a really good novel despite the name, and I suggest that you read it.