ABRAHAM LINCOLN, VAMPIRE HUNTER
By Seth Grahame-Smith (Grand Central, 336 pages, $21.99)
Supernatural creatures and Jane Austen met in "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies," Seth Grahame-Smith's delightful mash-up with Elizabeth Bennet sparring not only with Mr. Darcy but armies of zombies. Now he's back with a new premise: "Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter," the story of Lincoln's hidden life. Discovering the evils of vampires at an early age, Lincoln grows up and travels the country, learning that the slave trade in the South serves a secondary purpose by supplying vampires with easy sources of victims. His shock over these bloodthirsty creatures leads to a lifelong battle to rid the U.S. of both slavery and vampires, documented in a secret diary.
"Zombies" worked because Grahame-Smith used Austen's novel knowledgeably and affectionately. "Vampire Hunter" is well researched, but lacks the charm and surprises of the previous book. He uses historical characters in obvious ways while ignoring aspects of Lincoln's life that would be entertaining in this context -- namely, his eccentric wife, Mary, and their forays into séances in the White House. A silly subplot involving secret meetings with Edgar Allan Poe does nothing to enhance the story.
But what's really missing is the humor that made "Zombies" work so well. The Civil War isn't all that funny, even with vampires. Instead of a tongue-in-cheek supernatural romp, this is a plodding rewrite of history. Perhaps it's time to stop the supernatural mash-up trend.
AMY C. REA, FREELANCE WRITER
Ford County: STORIES
By John Grisham (Doubleday, 308 pages, $24)
Longtime and successful novelist John Grisham tries his hand at a briefer format with his first collection of short stories. All the tales are set in Ford County, Miss., the setting of his first novel, "A Time to Kill." And the effort is, well, very good. The stories vary widely in tone and scope: "Blood Drive" is the buffonish adventures of three men who go to donate blood to a friend in an accident but detours keep thwarting their goal. "Michael's Room" is a scary tale, in which a lawyer is forced to experience the true-life consequences of one of his big legal victories. And the quiet, insightful story "Funny Boy" is about the gay son of a prominent family who comes home to die and finds a soulmate among the people on the poorer side of town. Each story embodies the flavors and rhythms of the South that native son Grisham knows so well. You will enjoy Grisham's return to Ford County.
MILFORD REID, SPORTS DESIGNER