Strange Practice Heals Your Summer Woes

We’re in the thick of summer now, and if you’re anything like me you’re filling up on Hellboy and Castlevania, because in the heat of summer all I can think about is death and horror. It really can’t just be me, because on top of Castlevania, we got the release of Strange Practice by Vivian Shaw. It could not wait for the Halloween season, no, we need a book to remind us that relief is just a month or two away.

Greta Helsing is a doctor to the supernatural, inheriting her clinic after her father died. Among her patients are mummies, werewolves, demons, ghouls, and vampires. Greta loves her work, but a serial killer stalks the streets of London, and humans are not the only thing it is preying on. When the vampire Varney is viciously attacked by a group of cultists, Greta realizes that this is more than your standard vampire hunter. She and her small group of supernatural friends work to investigate the cult and put an end to their reign of terror.

If you insist that vampires are unequivocally monsters not to be romanticized, this is not the book for you. The book does not glorify abusive romance or spend too much time on the melancholy of being a vampire. Rather, the vampires are just so nice and gosh darn eager to help. They do not kill their victims, they do not use their mind control abilities for evil, and their biggest problem is that after all these centuries it just gets a bit dull. Ruthven particularly is less vampire and more Greta’s immortal rich friend who is eager to smother her and anyone he meets with generosity and home cooking. Varney is more morose, but utterly harmless.

Another curious fact about her group of friends is that she has surrounded herself with a harem of men, and no other woman besides Greta is of any importance. Greta mourns her father, but as far as I recall there is no mention of her mother. The only other two mostly-human named female characters are her assistants at the clinic, who cover for her while she investigates the mad monks. They do not have much personality or purpose besides the logistics of running the clinic. Aside from one motherly ghoul who barely speaks, Greta is completely surrounded by men who fawn over her. While Fass is a father figure, the other men in her entourage remind me a bit of characters in a dating sim. I couldn't refrain from taking bets with myself on who she would end up with. (I was, as it turns out, completely right.)

That might give you the impression that this is a light, fluffy read, but not so. It just may or may not be your cup of tea. The world Shaw builds is intriguing even if the vamps lack bite; the idea of a doctor for supernaturals is just too ticklish and Shaw takes great pains to make it all so believable. In between developments, Greta attends to mummies who need body parts replaced, demons with asthma, and ghouls with depression. I have no idea if any of Greta’s medical talk is accurate, but it is certainly convincing to the lay reader without feeling overwhelmed with jargon. If you’ve ever read a good sci-fi whose science you didn’t completely understand, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

In fact, structure-wise my only criticism is the pacing. The book feels a good fifty pages too long, as much minutiae is explained that doesn’t really need to be. Whole scenes could have been cut, and the ending overstays its welcome after the climax we slowly clawed our way to. That is in part intentional: Shaw’s strengths lie in the witty banter between Greta and her friends, but not much so on mystery or action. Either more action or a shorter book would have improved the experience.

Once we get over the lack of much that is actually morally grey (let alone pure evil), Strange Practice offers a spoopy summer read. Frankly, there should be more books like it: if the weather isn’t quite ready for fall horror reads, Strange Practice will whet your appetite for monsters until it is seasonally acceptable to binge read Dracula late at night.

Megan “Spooky” Crittenden is a secluded writer who occasionally ventures from her home to give aid to traveling adventurers