Kim Newman is best known for his alternate historical vampire novels in the Anno Dracula series, but he wrote “Something More Than Night” (2021), a stand-alone that teams up Raymond Chandler and Boris Karloff. It’s both a classic hard-boiled narrative and an urban fantasy set in Golden Age Hollywood.
“Only the Dead Know Burbank” (2016), by Bradford Tatum, follows a girl who survived the 1918 flu pandemic thanks to magic and has now become immortal. She finds work in the silent movie industry in Germany before making the jump to Hollywood, essentially allowing the reader to chart the evolution of the motion picture industry across the decades.
“Siren Queen” by Nghi Vo, out this spring, is another title set in pre-Code Hollywood. Here, Luli Wei, a Chinese American actress, faces typecasting and racism in her quest for stardom. In a world in where magic deals are struck to achieve beauty and immortality, and studio heads are literal monsters, it won’t be easy to make it to the top.
The life: Kim Newman is one of the United Kingdom’s foremost film critics, so his encyclopedic knowledge of cinema is unsurprising. I especially like his opening salvo in “Johnny Alucard” (the fourth of the “Anno Dracula” sequence), “Coppola’s Dracula.” Newman reimagines Coppola shooting not “Apocalypse Now” in the Philippines, but “Dracula” in Transylvania (Charlie Sheen is turned into a vampire halfway through production following his on-set heart attack). The only way to describe it is glorious. As Dracula (presumed dead in the third novel), returns to life, he heads to Hollywood, where he runs into Philip Marlowe, as well as Orson Welles, who had his own never-produced “Dracula” picture in the works.
And just as Welles also tried to adapt “Heart of Darkness” (the Joseph Conrad novel that inspired Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now”), the young British author Ned Beauman imagines a film crew traveling to a lost Mayan temple in the jungle to film — of all things — a screwball comedy version of the story, in his 2017 novel “Madness is Better than Defeat” (a line taken from Welles’s screenplay). Beauman is endlessly inventive, and the tale twists and turns unexpectedly. If you never read him, let me plead for his “The Teleportation Accident,” a riotous journey from Nazi Germany to Hollywood starring one Egon Loeser, who has fallen in love with the unattainable Adele Hitler (“No relation!”). The teleportation device of the title remains a mystery for most of the novel, which feels like a more fantastical version of the Coen Brothers’ “Hail, Caesar!”
Silvia: I always wondered if Clive Barker — who directed and adapted a few of his own stories and novels — watched “Death Becomes Her” before writing “Coldheart Canyon” (2001). Or maybe the book is supposed to be a riff on “Sunset Boulevard.” A movie star undergoes a botched plastic surgery and seeks refuge in the mansion of Katya Lupi, an actress who once made it big in silent films and who remains mysteriously fresh-faced. What follows is a mixture of grotesqueries, sex and violence. If you ever wanted Barker, but with a dash of Hollywood glamour, this is the book for you.
The life: Among recent books, I really liked Mallory O’Meara’s “The Lady from the Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick” (2019). It’s nonfiction, about one of Hollywood’s early and unjustly forgotten monster designers. I wish someone would do the same for Leigh Brackett, the science fiction writer who as a Hollywood veteran wrote both “The Big Sleep” (with William Faulkner) and, years later, “The Long Goodbye.” In between, Brackett wrote numerous science fiction novels (and more than a few TV shows), and she deserves to be celebrated as another pioneer.
Speaking of Hollywood novels, though, I think people forget “The Princess Bride,” by the great screenwriter William Goldman. The metafictional frame story of the novel is very different from the movie; it’s about a screenwriter, his failing marriage and his distant son. It’s wonderful and much darker than the film. Tell us, dear reader, what tales of cinema and the fantastic do you relish?