Book Review: Betty Church and the Suffolk Vampire

A sleepy Suffolk village in 1939 is not your average setting for a gothic tale of vampire lust, and Betty Church and the Suffolk Vampire by M.R.C. Kasasian is not your average gothic vampire-fest. This eccentric, gruesome and quirky novel made me laugh out loud a lot, and I usually avoid ‘funny’ books like, well, vampires in a murky graveyard.

It is set just at the start of the second world war in a fictitious (but very authentic) small Suffolk village, called Slackwater. It is incredibly difficult to write an authentic Suffolk dialect (even harder to speak it if you are not a native, although Ralph Fiennes did an excellent job in the film, “The Dig”) but  I thought the author absolutely nailed the dialect and the Suffolk way of viewing the world in a very literal sense. Those born here may feel a bit offended at the dialect, which is often used to highlight the dimness of the local population, but I live in deepest mid-Suffolk and I hear this kind of talk all the time. I don’t think it was intended to be insulting (the author lives in Suffolk for six months of the year) but rather an affectionate rendering of local eccentricity.

Our heroine is Betty Church, born and brought up in Slackwater, but escaping just as soon as she could to become a female police officer, a rare thing in the 1930s (until the late 1930s the County of Suffolk would not allow female police officers). Following a gruesome attack in London in which she has her left hand cut off, she is sent to Slackwater, ostensibly to get rid of her as she is perceived as far too clever for her own good, a reflection of patriarchal attitudes in the early 20th century.

Not too long after her arrival, a series of truly appalling murders occur where the victims, both male and female, receive deep and ragged cuts to their necks. Is there a vampire stalking Slackwater?

With a really memorable cast of characters, not to mention Betty herself who is a feminist way ahead of her time, this really won me over. I really don’t like books that try to be funny, but this really was very funny, especially the observations of Betty’s sidekick, Constable Dodo Chivers.

It’s not exactly a light read and you will need a strong stomach, but it is hugely entertaining.

Available from the West Suffolk NHS Trust Library and Information Centre