Author: Grady Hendrix
Summary: 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. 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 he’s 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.
I’ve been, shall we say… intrigued by the book cover for The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires since I first heard about it back in February, and then even more so when I realized that Grady Hendrix was the author of a handful of books that have piqued my interest on more than one occasion (including My Best Friend’s Exorcism, We Sold Our Souls, Horrorstör, and Paperbacks from Hell). I borrowed the book from the library sometime in August but never got around to actually reading it until I needed a palate cleanser between How to Be an Antiracist and The New Jim Crow.
But, like all good books, I shouldn’t have waited so long.
With a title like The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires, it’s not a surprise when a vampire eventually shows up—nor is it entirely unwarranted when Patricia assumes her strange new neighbor might actually be one. (This is fiction after all.) But, like all my favorite vampire novels, the best part isn’t just the gory, blood-soaked standoff at the end: it’s the little moments that lead you there and all the second-guessing along the way.
One of my favorite parts was the true crime book club Patricia starts with some of the other housewives in her neighborhood because omfg this is the dream. (I have a certain habit of bringing true crime facts into otherwise normal conversations—”well Ed Gein only killed two people so he isn’t even technically a serial killer”—and the people around me go “mm hmm okay cool thanks so much” instead of nodding at my left of center interests.) The club forms the backbone of the novel and, once its overtaken by the women’s husbands and blown up into a town-wide social affair, just another metaphorical thread that ties the plot together. There’s a lot of icky, not great stuff that happens throughout the novel, but one of the worst involved all the husbands forcing their wives—after said wives believed and supported Patricia against James Harris—to not only apologize but also embrace him as one of their own. The amount of manipulation and gaslighting that occurred just put this pit in my stomach that only went away at the end (in, yes, a very satisfying gory, blood-soaked standoff).
The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires is a long book at just over 400 pages but, by the last third or fourth, I found myself curled up on the sofa in a reading cocoon, content to only get up once I’d finished. It’s a genre book but also not one, too. Hendrix writes in his author’s note that “when I was a kid I didn’t take my mom seriously” and I found myself returning to the quote at the end. There are so many instances where Patricia isn’t taken seriously as a woman, as a wife, as a mother, or as a friend; where her mother-in-law, Ruth, is brushed off as senile; or where Ruth’s caretaker, Mrs. Greene, is silenced because of her skin color and where she lives… and then so many instances where all three women are proved correct.
It might have taken Patricia a little longer than I’d hoped for her to put her foot down and for Patricia’s husband and neighbor to get what they deserved… but, oh, what a comeuppance.