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'The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires' mixes horror with humor

Have you ever had one of those moments of bookish serendipity, when it feels like the world is telling you to read a certain title? That happened to me recently with stunning effect.

I saw a copy of the Grady Hendrix novel, “The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires,” at a local used book store. I had just listened to my colleague Beth’s interview with Hendrix on her “Marginalia” podcast, where they talked about his recent release, “How to Sell a Haunted House,” and Hendrix intrigued me. “Slaying Vampires” was his 2020 release, and this used copy cost just a few bucks. Besides that, its long title fulfilled Category No. 2 of our #ReadICT Challenge. And it’s set in Charleston, S.C., where Hendrix grew up and where much of my family now lives. As the old Magic 8 Ball would say: Signs point to yes.

This is the story of Patricia Campbell, who leads a boring, thankless life as a suburban housewife. She’s raising two kids and caring for her aging mother-in-law, who has dementia. Patricia and her friends start a true-crime book club, which lets them explore sordid stories and escape their domestic lives for a little while. Then a mysterious stranger, James Harris, moves into the neighborhood, and horrific happenings ensue.

Be warned: This book is not for everyone. Several scenes are truly grisly, and one involving rats is creepy beyond belief. But Hendrix plays with stereotypes and horror tropes in the most delightful way, and he peppers his story with just as many laugh-out-loud moments as jump scares. During one scene, Patricia’s friend Grace says their new neighbor couldn’t possibly be suspicious. “There isn’t anything wrong with him,” Grace says, “because people who have something wrong with them don’t live here.”

This is “Stepford Wives” meets “Dracula” — a smart, scary, backlist title that got me hooked on Grady Hendrix. Now I can’t wait to read more.

Suzanne Perez is a longtime journalist covering education and general news for KMUW and the Kansas News Service. Suzanne reviews new books for KMUW and is the co-host with Beth Golay of the Books & Whatnot podcast. Follow her on Twitter @SuzPerezICT.