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Arts & Culture

Halloween brings three terrifying tomes to die for

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Due to social obligations that include handing out gift coupons and checking apples for needles, Halloween is perhaps best handled by just being haunted by a book. Here are three recent releases that embrace the dark, and are low on snark.

The Twelve / Justin Cronin / Ballantine / $28, 568 pages
Brutal, blasphemous and unabashedly bookish, Justin Cronin's sequel to his modern bloodsucker plague classic The Passage pits immortality against immorality and happily satisfies the appetite for apocalypse tales like Swan Song and The Stand, while providing a role model heroine that horror fans will be eager to role-play within.

The Closet of Discarded Dreams / Rudy Ch. Garcia / Damnation Books / $19.99, 204 pages
With a panache for mashing up worlds of democratically focused machismo and a love of the movies, San Antonio native Rudy Ch. Garcia offers up a haunting hallucination that links Lenny Bruce to Marilyn Monroe, and reads like a Chico and the Man version of Clive Barker's The Great and Secret Show.

Vlad / Carlos Fuentes, Translated by E. Shaskan Bumas and Alejandro Branger / Dalkey Archive Press / $17.95, 122 pages
With respect to all the Twilight fans out there that need their vampires to not only sparkle in the sun but exchange vows with their victims before any serious necking ever gets to happen, vampires should be repulsive; at the very least they should be as unpalatable as any actual living person who feels comfortable wearing Ray-Bans at the dinner table. Within Vlad, the latest posthumously published novel from Carlos Fuentes, we get the real ugly undead thing; and of course, this being a Fuentes fiction, we also get the pleasure of his lacquered prose, that typical Fuentes sentence that can inform on culture, crime, politics, as well as the courage — or lack thereof — to be.

We also get a deft little grand guignol as well. In Vlad, the author of The Old Gringo has provided his fans with the oldest gringo of them all: the 500-year-old pasty-faced blood sucker you might remember from Bram Stoker's Dracula (as well as Coppola's Bram Stoker's Dracula). To be sure, this book is cinematically charged, with references to Andy Warhol's Dracula, too, and perhaps even to that Mystery Science Theater 3000 staple "Manos: The Hands of Fate." The Miguel de Cervantes prizewinner, who dips with startling ease into theology as well as media trivia, makes no bones about incorporating a fare amount of in-jokes into this fun-fester of a tale.

There are no real surprises here. And I don't think there are supposed to be any. This is a Dracula story plain and simple, filled with the reliable imagery of the lawyer and the real estate agent, and there are even those jokes about never drinking wine; we know the drill because writers as serviceable as Stephen King and as sucky as Stephanie Meyer have all taken a stab at the tale.

But in the hands of a master like Fuentes the vampire story becomes something more; in Vlad we get a world of social critique bound to dark dalliances and unnerving asides, a tale about a monster moving to Mexico City because his vile nature won't be detected amongst the corruption.

"A city without police protection!" exclaims our vampire, who then goes on to complain about all the trouble Scotland Yard once gave him.

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