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Monday, May 11, 2015

A Love Like Blood

Our colleague Richard Atwood of North Carolina has found yet another interesting literary piece about hemophilia and.... vampires. Why not? Vampires seem to be everywhere in literature and film, and include superheroes and even Abe Lincoln!

A Love Like Blood (by Marcus Sedgwick 2014, New York, NY: Pegasus Crime. 310 pages) is a novel labeled as crime fiction, and begins with an interesting love story and morphs into a disturbing thriller. 

Richard writes:  In 1944, Dr. Charles Jackson, a newly qualified 25-year-old house officer at Barts, is called up as a captain in the Royal Army Medical Corps, Field Hygiene Section. When Paris is liberated, he visits an antiquities museum at Saint-Germaine-en-Laye where he stumbles upon a man in a bunker drinking blood from a woman. Stunned into inaction by either fear or curiosity, Charles merely turns and leaves. After the war, he takes a specialism and returns to Cambridge as a 31-year-old consultant in haematology. In 1951 while attending an international conference in Paris to read a paper on leukemia, Charles spots the man in the bunker dining with a beautiful woman in her early 20s. With a bit of sleuthing, he discovers the mans name to be Margrave Anton Verovkin, an exiled Estonian count, and the woman to be Marian Fisher, an American PhD student at the Sorbonne. Marian is researching for her dissertation how blood is used in Dantes The Divine Comedy. Charles falls in love with Marian and invites her to visit Cambridge over Easter. In Paris that June, Charles finds Marian to be paler and ill, and he warns her of Verovkin being dangerous. By August, Charles is told that Marian has returned to America for a heart operation. Charles then focuses on his haemophilia research in Cambridge. His small research unit investigates improved plasma products to help haemophiliacs, if not find a cure. Charles marries Sarah, who then tragically dies. In 1961, Charles receives a letter from Mrs. Fisher in New York stating that Marian had died in 1951 in Paris where she is buried, and hinting that Marian had loved Charles. Following scant clues, Charles travels to Paris to learn of Marians brutal murder, and then to Avignon to discover Verovkin conducting a blood-drinking religious ceremony. Verovkins followers abduct and beat up Charles before the French police send him home. Charles inquires into clinical vampirism, or blood drinking. An invitation to visit Professor Enzio Mazzarino in Rome to discuss his haemophilia research turns out to be a ruse, but Charles encounters an underage prostitute. Charles returns to London to be with his dying father and the police raid his house to find planted photographs of Charles with the prostitute. Fired from his job and fleeing the police for paedophilia, Charles takes his inheritance and hides in Scotland. Studying clinical vampirism, specifically the psychologically disturbed and their relationship to blood, Charles becomes more paranoid. He accidentally kills a private detective, who he hired to find Verovkin, when the detective instead stalks Charles. Hiding in London, Charles learns more of the perversions and taboos of blood. When the newspapers report that Giovanna Scozzo, an Italian female haemophiliac, will be treated at the Swiss Haemophilia Clinic in Lausanne due to the generosity of a rich Swiss philanthropist, Charles, without a passport in 1964, makes his way to Switzerland. The abducted Giovanna is the bait for Charles, who is also abducted to Verovkins chateau in Yugoslavia. Imprisoned there, Charles is forced to drink blood to survive. By cutting off his thumb, Charles escapes his wrist shackle and burns down the chateau. Still wanting to avenge the murder of Marian, Charles searches three years for the scarred Verovkin, finally finding him in Italy in 1968. Charles cuts Verovkins neck with a knife to kill him, eerily realizing his personal desire for blood.

"I've chased him for over twenty years, and across countless miles, and though often I was running, there have been many times when I could do nothing but sit and wait. Now I am only desperate for it to be finished."

The budding romance of a hematologist specializing in hemophilia and a beautiful woman never reaches fruition, yet the protagonist seeks revenge for the murder of his unfulfilled love, using his hefty inheritance to fund his obsession. The novel lists numerous minutiae about blood. Hemophilia is not necessary for the plot, but it adds more substance and the appropriate name for the love of blood. Oxford is strangely attributed with the use of snake venom as a treatment of hemophilia in 1961 (it was the 1930s), and more appropriately for the identification of additional clotting factors at that time (pp. 99, 155). This is the first adult novel by the prolific award-winning author of young adult fiction.   

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