When is a risk too great? Even when the possible rewards are tempting? How do you decide? Who’s council do you seek? And what do you do, if after all the consideration and deliberation, you find that you’ve chosen poorly and the costs are higher than you could have possibly imagined? These are just some of the questions explored in Stoker’s Manuscript by Royce Prouty.
Joseph Barkeley leads a comfortable life after a rocky childhood. He and his brother were orphaned in their native Romania after their father murdered their mother. They were rescued from an orphanage and sent to be raised by nuns in Chicago. Joseph grew up to be a rare book and manuscript dealer and expert. Bernhardt, his younger brother, became a priest. They now live near to each other, and the parish in which they were raised in Chicago.
When Joseph receives a call inquiring about hiring him to authenticate an annotated manuscript for Bram Stoker’s Dracula, it sounds like a challenging and enjoyable opportunity. When the buyer’s agent insists that, should the manuscript be genuine, Joseph secure its sale and bypass the planned auction, it becomes more challenging but still possible. Once the sale is secured, he is requested to courier the manuscript to Romania and deliver it, personally, to the anonymous buyer. If he does these things, he is promised to be well compensated.
While doing his due diligence on the manuscript, he is warned by several colleagues, customers and his brother to pass on this job. There are simply too many risks. Too many things could go wrong. But Joseph is tempted by the payment offered for what he believes will be a simple job. He will secure the manuscript, deliver it to the anonymous buyer and collect a marvelous paycheck ensuring stability and comfort for himself and those for whom he cares. But it becomes increasingly clear, as Joseph moves through the steps to complete the transaction, that this job is going to be neither simple nor straightforward. And Joseph’s decision to accept this job will come to threaten everyone and everything he knows.
In Stoker’s Manuscript, first time author Royce Prouty creates a sense of increasing and impending dread as a simple job spirals out of control. The novel is rich in historic details, especially the history of Eastern Europe and, specifically, Romania and Transylvania. The history ranges from the 15th century, and Transylvania’s most famous, and ruthless, ruler Vlad Tepes to the late 20th century, under the Ceaușescu regime. There is also some fascinating background on Stoker and the writing of his most famous work. Prouty blends all of this factual background seamlessly into his fictional elements providing the overall story with a greater sense of immediacy and urgency because so much of what is described has happened.
While it may seem easy to guess the identity of the reclusive buyer in Romania insisting upon anonymity, the revelation is more complex, and more satisfying, than assumptions the reader may have going in. The tension in the novel builds relentlessly throughout the novel to a climactic ending.
Readers of Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian should enjoy Stoker’s Manuscript, as will anyone who enjoys a well crafted tale of the undead!