Moon Rising2-smallReview by Boyd Tonkin

The art of biography has plunged into a bout of self-scrutiny…. The older gambit was to seal all your speculations into a novel that breathed actual life into people, but never made any courtroom claims to the truth.

A shamelessly enjoyable new example of this venerable craft is Moon Rising by Ann Victoria Roberts: both a bodice-ripping romance, and a biographical fantasia about the roots of a famous novel.

Roberts sets her scene in the Whitby of the 1880s, where a saturnine stranger from London seduces a shrewd local lass. The pair begin a wild affair, spiced by young Damsy’s retelling of gory local legends. This ardent, troubled lover has a kink: what really makes his juices flow is ‘the exchange and mingling of blood’.

Yes, you’ve guessed. It was evidently the yarns and yearnings of Yorkshire, not Ireland or Transylvania, that inspired a Dublin-born theatre-manager named Bram Stoker to dream up Dracula.

With considerable brio, Roberts mixes a crimson cocktail of genres: Victorian Gothic, inevitably, but also shades of the late Mrs Cookson (Damsy grows up to make a fortune in shipping) and a dash of Stoker’s best living (or undead?) disciple, Anne Rice.

This is all tremendous fun, so long as you don’t take the torrid liaison too much on trust. Yet all other details fit the record, and Roberts intriguingly hints that Stoker modelled the creepy Count on his boss and mentor, Sir Henry Irving. As so often, the licence of the novel unlocks the biographical imagination without putting anyone on oath. This comes as a relief, since too many quarrels over the frontiers of fact and fiction can leave the reader feeling… rather drained.