The best books with vintage bite for vampire lovers

Suzanne Ruthven Author Of Charnel House Blues: The Vampyre's Tale
By Suzanne Ruthven

Who am I?

I started my professional writing career in 1987 having founded the small press writers’ magazine, Quartos, which ran for nine years until its merger with Acclaim in 1996 to become The New Writer, as well as authoring several creative writing how-to books – including Horror Upon Horror.  In addition to acting as judge for national writing competitions, I've also tutored at writers’ workshops including The Annual Writers’ Conference (Winchester College), The Summer School (University of Wales), Horncastle College (Lincolnshire), and the Cheltenham Literature Festival.  Having been a staunch supporter of the Gothic Society and a regular contributor to its quarterly magazine, Udolpho, I have also created the series of The Vampyre’s Tale novels.

I wrote...

Charnel House Blues: The Vampyre's Tale

By Suzanne Ruthven,

Book cover of Charnel House Blues: The Vampyre's Tale

What is my book about?

A view of vampire culture through the eyes of Lord Ruthven - the first vampire in the literary world taken from John Polidori's The Vampyre. Written as faction, Lord Ruthven rarely appears in vampiric anthologies and has never been filmed - neither has he ever been vanquished! Life - seen through his Lordship’s eyes, gives it that compelling intensity that is the signature trademark of all good vampiric fiction as well as having its own brand of gallows humour.

The books I picked & why

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In Search of Dracula: The History of Dracula and Vampires

By Radu Florescu, Raymond T. McNally,

Book cover of In Search of Dracula: The History of Dracula and Vampires

Why this book?

I put this one at the top of my list because it is a serious, scholarly approach to the subject of vampires and dispensed with the need to include Bram Stoker’s book among the list of favourites.

After the appearance of Dracula in 1897, the Count took over as the stereotype of the aristocratic vampire. The McNally-Florescu investigation discovered authentic 15th-century manuscripts that confirmed there had been a “human being fully as horrifying as the vampire of fiction… who had been the subject of many horror stories even during his own lifetime; a ruler whose cruelties were committed on such a massive scale that his evil reputation reached beyond the grave…” As a result, the team pieced together a dual history of the real 15th-century Dracula who came from Transylvania and the vampires who existed in the legends of the same region.

The Vampyre: A Tale

By John William Polidori,

Book cover of The Vampyre: A Tale

Why this book?

As contemporary Gothic author and artist Franklin Bishop observe, John Polidori ‘was responsible for introducing into English fiction the enduring image of the vampyre in the guise of a suave, cynical, and murderous English Lord. With the presentation of Lord Ruthven [Byron] as a vampyre, Polidori created a personification of evil that countless authors have since imitated in attempting to satisfy the enormous public interest in this genre of literature. The literary-metamorphosed vampire that emerged from the Villa Diadoti ‘ghost story’ contest quickly developed a life force of its own – which was not surprising since it was the collective brainchild of Byron and his physician John Polidori – and created a minor literary scandal when it was published in 1818. The Vampyre was based on Lord Byron’s unfinished story "Fragment of a Novel," but it is arguably the most influential vampire work of the early 19th century.

I loved this novella because it was the first of its kind to create an anti-hero with more charisma than the ‘good guys’… Or maybe it was the Byronic connection that gave him the added sex appeal!


By J. Sheridan Le Fanu,

Book cover of Carmilla

Why this book?

If we were seeking a vampiress of unparallel virtue, we need look no further than an Irish author with the unlikely name of Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, who was the next to fall under the spell. He wrote the novella Carmilla (1872) for In A Glass Darkly – said to be possibly one of the greatest vampire stories of all time – but this time creating the most famous female vampire in the genre. Le Fanu’s description of how a person becomes a vampire is based upon authentic folk beliefs from Eastern Europe, and in this novella, Bram Stoker found the basic ingredients to encourage him to delve seriously into vampire mythology for his own literary inspiration.

I salute Carmilla because she gives the ladies an edge when it comes to vampires!

The Vampires of Alfama

By Pierre Kast, Peter De Polnay (translator),

Book cover of The Vampires of Alfama

Why this book?

Another sultry beauty worthy of note is Barbara, Count Kotor’s vampire daughter in The Vampires of Alfama, and an even more alarming creature. A "magnificent gossamer blonde," she is highly intelligent, coldly calculating and we know that even when under attack by the Inquisition that she will survive. The most erotic scenes in the book belong to Barbara and we are left with no doubt that she uses her body and mind to ensnare her willing victims. Kast has created a vampire being with life in its veins, set against a backdrop of terror-inspired medievalism that would endure for centuries ."Her special gift, which she had received as her share, was the strength of magnetic and hypnotic suggestion, a subject of endless discussions with her father... On several occasions, Barbara used her power to suck the blood of boys and girls who were more victims than accomplices. When Kotor found out he went mad with rage. And Barbara’s behaviour, although he found it immoral above everything else, was also the source of a grave peril, linked with the source of the age-old terror inspired by the vampires."

I feel that this novel is the most realistic in creating the vampire’s world out of 18th century Europe and the Inquisition, whilst retaining the glamour and magic of the age. I empathized fully with the characters who are so finely drawn, that we can visualize them at every stage of the chilling narrative.

Doctors Wear Scarlet

By Simon Raven,

Book cover of Doctors Wear Scarlet

Why this book?

Simon Raven had a marked fascination for the supernatural that first manifested in an early novel Doctors Wear Scarlet, which was cited by Karl Edward Wagner (himself an award-winning American writer, poet, editor and publisher of horror and writer of numerous dark fantasy and horror stories), as one of the thirteen best supernatural novels. The story is set against Raven’s customary background of academia and University life and has a distinctly macabre and spine-chilling theme. It starts harmlessly enough with a young man’s infatuation for a beautiful Greek girl, but Chriseis is no ordinary holiday love affair; three friends track down their missing companion across the Aegean, where it becomes increasingly obvious that their relationship is strange to say the least. Despite dispatching Chriseis in the remote mountains of Crete and not without cost to themselves, the missing scholar is returned to his University – but the curse of the vampire is never far behind, and with it comes the inevitable conclusion.

I believe Simon Raven’s novel rounds off the literary choices in the vampire genre, while losing nothing in the modernization and cleverly avoiding the clichéd stereotypes of contemporary writing.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in vampires, Romania, and Count Dracula?

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