Written by Kathryn Leigh Scott
Published by Pomegranate Press
It must be stated right off the bat that reviewing Kathryn Leigh Scott’s Dark Passages for Dread Central is a tough task. As a mainstream novel, it’s swiftly paced, true to its setting (New York City in the swinging 1960’s), and serves as quite an entertaining coming of age tale of a struggling young actress. As a horror story, however, it’s a bit tricky. While said struggling young actress is also a vampire who is learning to balance her preternatural gifts with her human emotions, there’s not a lot of real genre fare to be found here. But let’s come back to that after a quick plot crunch, shall we?
Midwest farm girl Margaret Blatch wasn’t much to look at until her late teens, when she blossomed and was even crowned Miss Twin Lakes during the 1962 Corn Husker Festival. She has a boy friend, Eric, but they are both smart enough not to go “all the way”, knowing full well that their dreams of escaping small town drudgery would never come true if she were to become pregnant. So, at age 18 he takes off for the Air Force, and she heads to NYC, where she works as a Bunny at the Playboy Club while trying to find fame and fortune as an actress.
Fairly quickly, Margaret Blatch becomes Meg Harrison (with a brief detour as Morgana Harriott), one of the leads in “Dark Passages”, a new daytime soap opera whose creators have a novel ideal: Instead of just following the same old tired formula of love and loss, Paul Abbott, producer, and Horace Milton, head writer, turn one of the characters (Sebastian Stanhope) into a vampire. You can imagine the inner conflict this creates for poor Meg! Why, what will her mother, Ruth, also a vamp, think of Sebastian’s storyline? And they don’t stop there either, incorporating flashbacks to an alternate timeline in which a jealous witch turns him into a vampire in the first place. And, adding even more chaos into Meg’s life is the fact that said witch is being portrayed by Camilla Nesbitt, an actual sorceress who just so happens to have a decades-old vendetta against Meg’s family.
Events — some comical, some tragic — play out from there as Meg and Camilla circle each other like vultures in a battle for dominance. The trouble is that there’s just not enough made of their feud to keep genre fans interested. Meg barely acknowledges her vampirism other than speaking to her ghostly friend and protector Haddie, making occasional jaunts to Central Park to feed on small animals, and once in a while shapeshifting and/or moving at accelerated speeds, opting instead to blend in as much as possible into the “normal” world. Much of this is blamed on Ruth for not really teaching her daughter about her enormous gifts. Until things heat up with Camilla, that is, but by then it’s almost a case of too little, too late.
Most of Dark Passages consists of behind-the-scenes human intrigue at the Playboy Club and on the set of the “Dark Passages” series rather than focusing on any supernatural shenanigans between our antagonists. For me that was fine, though, as the peek into 1960’s America, including of course the assassination of President Kennedy, felt fresh and fun and very engaging. It’s just not enough for me to wholeheartedly recommend the book to our DC readers.
From the first page Dark Passages feels like an autobiography (Scott, for those who are unaware, starred in the popular “Dark Shadows” Gothic daytime series and films and also worked at the Playboy Club). If I had to describe it in one word, it would be “intimate”. Scott’s writing style is conversational, fast moving, never dull or boring, and well worth taking the time to check out if you can live with the “horror lite” feel of the book. Plus, the ending leaves the door open for a possible sequel for those of us who have been sucked into the story and crave more of both Dark Passages the book and “Dark Passages” the series. Count me in!
3 out of 5