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The belief that wickedness is the province of monsters, not men, is consoling to those who are young

So says Abraham "Bram" Stoker in Shadowplay, Joseph O'Connor's deliciously atmospheric work of historical fiction.

As Ellen Terry, another character in the book, explains, "...everyone has a Mr. Hyde, another version of the self. A direction not taken, perhaps."

My "Mr. Hyde" shows itself in my love of dark stories. Give me "Wuthering Heights" over "Jane Eyre," any day of the week.

Bram Stoker was, of course, the author of "Dracula." Published in 1897, Stoker would never know how iconic and long-lived his story would be. He never achieved recognition in his lifetime. Which is a shame.

Forget the endless "versions" of the Dracula story. If you haven't read the original, you need to. And, then read "Shadowplay."

As with most books of historical fiction, O'Connor fills his tale with real-life characters and factual information from their lives. I knew virtually nothing about Stoker, except that he was Irish.

What I did not know was that his "Dracula" character was most likely based on famous Victorian actor Henry Irving. Irving, Stoker and Ellen Terry, a famous Victorian actress, worked together for several years in London's Lyceum Theatre.

It only takes one look at a photo of Henry Irving to see The Count.

"Shadowplay," is historical fiction. But, reading it made me want to know more about the real-life participants.

Henry Irving was a celebrated actor, the first of his profession to be knighted. Ellen Terry was born into a theatrical family. Her career spanned decades, from theatre to the silent film era.

And, of course, there is Bram Stoker. Married with a son, but possibly gay. No one could safely reveal that kind of love in those days. You don't have to look beyond what happened to Stoker's friend Oscar Wilde to know that.

Always spoken of as kind and thoughtful, Stoker found an outlet in his writing. Sadly, he'd never know how influential his book, "Dracula," would be.

When my copy of "Shadowplay" arrived, I waited for the right time to read it. Sunny, 80-degree days simply would not work. I wanted the right atmosphere.

Much to my delight, we had nearly a week of dark, rainy, stormy days shortly after. Perfect. I curled up in my chair and began. Immediately I was transported to Stoker's Victorian London with ghosts in the attic and Jack the Ripper in the streets.

Not for everyone, perhaps, but "Shadowplay" is the best historical fiction I've read in a long time.

My next foray into the dark side? "Jane Steele," a retelling of "Jane Eyre." In this one, instead of pronouncing, "Reader, I married him," she says, "Reader, I murdered him." Jane the serial killer - next on my list.

I need a dark and stormy day. Or, week.


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