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Review: The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires

Horror meets chick-lit in spectacular fashion when a group of housewives unite to save kids from an old evil in this piquant new novel by the author of Horrorstör.

The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires—Grady Hendrix, 2020. Rating: 5/5

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In the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, Patricia Campbell enjoys a comfortable, safe life in a comfortable, safe neighborhood outside Charleston, South Carolina. She spends her days caring for her family: teen daughter Korey, younger son Blue, her psychiatrist husband Carter, and Carter’s cantankerous, senile mother, Miss Mary.

Patricia occasionally misses her pre-housewife career as a capable, respected nurse, but Patricia’s family and comfortable lifestyle make her sacrifice worth it. When Patricia scandalously fails to read her snooty book club’s literary selection of the month, she and a diverse group of women form their own book club—focusing on true crime. Fastidious Grace, outgoing Kitty, the Yankee Maryellen, and Slick Paley (who tells her husband their group is a Bible study) form lasting friendships over Charles Manson and Ted Bundy.

True crime and true horror become real when the charming James Harris moves into the neighborhood. Bizarre attacks and odd deaths—especially of young Black children in a nearby neighborhood—make Patricia suspicious about James Harris, even though she is strangely drawn to him. Together with the help of Ursula Greene, Miss Mary’s caregiver, the friends explore the outwardly impossible idea that James Harris is not what he seems. Their task becomes extra tricky when James Harris hoodwinks their husbands and becomes “one of the boys”.

The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires rocks. The horror is very real and very visceral. Cringeworthy and darkly humorous moments abound, and the climax is deeply unnerving. Hendrix gives us a unique (and deliciously revolting) take on the vampire legend. It is Hendrix’s characters, however, that make this story a standout. While the friends smilingly make sure the silver is polished, the clothes ironed, the dogs/kids/husbands fed, they have their own hidden troubles, including infidelity, abuse, and financial woes. They are belittled. Taken for granted. Patronized. We empathize with their fears and frustrations, so much so that we experience a different, equally terrible, kind of horror when Carter challenges and exerts control over Patricia’s mental health. Patricia and her friends are pulled out of their comfort zones. They awkwardly confront racial disparity. Their bond is tested by distrust and betrayal. Friendship + self-empowerment + a vile vampire = awesome. The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires is a must-read.