First published back in September of 1988 (US) and May of 1999 (UK), US writer and journalist, Katherine Ramsland’s book ‘Piercing The Darkness’ investigated the subculture of modern-day vampires in America.
In July of 1996, thirty-six-year-old investigative reporter, Susan Walsh, disappeared whilst investigating the underground vampire scene in Manhattan. Following this, New York based journalist, Katharine Ramsland begins her own investigation into Walsh’s disappearance, using her connections as Anne Rice’s official biographer in order to open doors to the underground culture and the groups involved.
At first her investigations start out with scouring the internet for chatrooms and forums which are dedicated to those within this secretive subculture. From here, Ramsland learns of dance clubs with nights dedicated to the scene, as well as organised vampire societies and groups who indulge in sudo-ritualistic activities.
Openly approaching the forum users, it’s not long before she receives an intriguing email signed off merely as W. “Go hunting for vampires and the vampires will hunt for you”. A stark warning about what Ramsland might find should she stick to her investigation into the vampire subculture.
Meanwhile, Ramsland had been in contact with Liriel McMahon who runs the Vampirism Research Institute in Seattle. Through Liriel, Ramsland was beginning to form a much deeper understanding of the strange vampiric subculture that had grown in the underbelly of Manhattan.
Gradually, piece by piece, a picture was beginning to emerge of a hidden subculture consisting of a diverse range of individuals showing different degrees of seriousness towards the vampire aspect of their lives. From the role-players, who simply enjoy the fantasy of playing a vampire in their spare time, to those who truly believe that they are one of the mythical blood-drinking undead – Ramsland’s investigation was gradually uncovering a scene that could not be defined purely by a few shady participators.
But at the back of her mind lay the concern that there may be those that have taken their vampiric devotion to a much more unnerving level. Through her contact with Wraith, and her own desire to follow the pathways down whatever darkened avenues they may take, Ramsland will come into contact with those that consume the blood of their willing victims, and edge closer to the worrying concern that there may well be some out there who have past the idea of mere fantasy – and broken into the realms of becoming the real stalkers of the night…
Before Katharine Ramsland penned this book, the journalist and writer had already written a biography on Anne Rice along with several books analysing Rice’s vampire novels. Indeed, Ramsland’s admiration and love of Rice’s work has not only set her up in good sway for the task of uncovering a modern vampire subculture in America (and indeed areas of Europe), but also helped to open a number of doors for contacting those within these tight and close nit circles.
However, Ramsland’s affiliation and obvious admiration for Rice and her work is not all good news. Ramsland’s repeated (and I really do mean repeated) reference to her beloved favourite author soon becomes utterly nauseating. Rice’s work has undoubtedly had much influence over the scene, however such a constant reminder of Rice’s presence in modern vampire culture goes far beyond unnecessary. Indeed, Ramsland jumps upon each and every opportunity to sing the praises of Rice, alongside slipping her name in wherever she can in order to maintain the constant precedence that Rice is somehow at the very essence of this vampire subculture.
Ramsland begins her book with the very first cautious steps of her investigation. Indeed, early on the book feels like it’s halfway between someone’s investigative journal and a rambling collection of notes and interviews. That said, the early chapters of the book do create an overall feeling of being on the very edge of something far deeper – which certainly works in the book’s favour. However, such a feeling of anticipation is soon washed away once Ramsland begins to focus on the attention of one particularly irksome individual – the annoyingly overdramatic Wraith.
Once the reader is a good way into the book, it begins to become all too obvious how much Ramsland relies on word of mouth and what she is being told during her interviews. How valid is what she is being presented with? How credible are the modern-day ‘vampires’ that she is speaking to? What becomes all too clear is how much Ramsland is keen to believe everything she is being told in order for a far more thrilling read.
The overall impression of the book, with its rambling interviews and near-diary-like format, is one without a clear focus or any discernable goal. The book starts out with looking into the disappearance of Susan Walsh, but Ramsland soon abandons this in favour of a more hyped-up and sensationalist story. An idea that lacks much in the way of hard fact or anything other than hearsay and a few attention-seeking goths with a thirst for vampiric fantasy.
For much of the book Ramsland skirts around the psychology of said vampires, attempting to examine the motivations and ramifications for these vampiric tendencies. Sadly, Ramsland fails to delve anywhere near deep enough to make such a venture worthwhile, and misses the opportunity for psychological comparison between the many different aspects of this select subculture.
The end result? Well, to be honest the book is more tedious and melodramatic than it is in any way interesting or informative. In its pages it’s hard to pull out anything with much credibility, or anything which could be considered a potential lead towards something of interest. Ramsland spends a reasonably large amount of time referencing the world of role-playing, which if we’re honest, is excruciatingly dull to anyone who isn’t interested in the scene. Injections of fetish clubs and moderate S&M antics do little to add any colour to the dreary gothic monotony of the subject matter. The end conclusion I’m sorry to say is nothing short of a rambling mess, showing little to no direction, and offering up only tedious goth fantasies mixed with eyeball-rolling Anne Rice fandom. Not an interesting or entertaining read in the slightest.
The book ends with a pretty thorough five-page bibliography, four-pages offering a selection of vampire resources, and a detailed index (should you wish to find or reference any particular area within the book again). There are also eight pages of colour photos in the centre of the book, showing Ramsland and a number of the individuals mentioned in the book, all displayed within a collage of photos and gothic imagery.
The book runs for a total of 346 pages.
© DLS Reviews