I listen to a lot of audiobooks. By 'a lot', I mean several hours every day. That daily number went down significantly while I was homeschooling my son, but now it's back to pre-pandemic levels. Listening to a well-crafted story actually helps keep me on task. The part of my brain that wants to run around the room touching everything quietly sits cross-legged for story time. It has to be something with a good narrative flow. Podcasts with two people having a conversation doesn't work. The meandering course of the dialogue leaves too many oxbow lakes for my thoughts to wade in.
For my second Frightful Friday, I'm proud to present a work that will hold your attention. I passed up The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix three or four times before deciding to give it a try. I am so glad I did. It's one of those gems combining story telling with voice acting. Bahni Turpin consistently gives each character a unique, appropriate voice. Her cadence is always appropriate to the mood of the scene.
If you are a woman who was raised in or lived in the southern United States, this book will speak to you. Between being a homemaker, supportive wife, mother to two kids, and caretaker to her aged mother-in-law, Patricia Campbell dropped the ball on reading for her book club when it's her turn to lead the discussion. Despite a valiant effort to fake having done so, she gets kicked out for not being committed. As she slinks to her car in shame, one of the other ladies applauds her efforts to stand up to the snobby head of the book club and suggests forming a new club that isn't so pretentious and boring. Patricia says she doesn't really think she has time for a book club, but takes the true crime novel the woman offers. To her surprise, she not only finishes it quickly, but looks forward to discussing it. The refugees from the pretentious book club quickly form an extended family. They become ever-closely knit as they vent about husbands and children and share the parts of their lives only other women will understand.
Then a newcomer, James Harris, arrives to care for his ailing great-aunt, who soon passes away very privately. The man himself appears to be in ill health. Being a good neighbor, Patricia takes him a casserole and vouches for him at the bank. She even invites him to the sacred space of book club. But as James assimilates into and rises in Charleston society, children start to go missing, then return, only to commit suicide days later. When Patricia discovers a link between one of the children and James Harris, her word is not proof enough for the authorities.
Then there's the unexplainable rise in large, black rats. And, despite her dementia, Patricia's mother-in-law remembers something very clearly. She tells why the peach tree bears bitter fruit, even though Patricia has always thought them sweet.
The scariest thing about this story is not the existence of a vampire, but how good manners and cultural mores cause people to unknowingly welcome a predator into their community. Scarier still, because of their willingness to found his social position, he gains enough wealth and social standing that no one believes them when they realize the danger he poses.
Their friendships are torn apart over Patricia's allegations against James, who has become a business partner to several of the book club's husbands. After he attacks one of their own, they put aside their differences to remove the threat he poses to everyone they love. In the end, they pay dearly, but it's not really over.