Jo Fletcher Fiction (2011)
Reviewed by Lorraine Cormack
The Vampire Shrink is part of that fast-growing sub-genre, vampire chick lit romances. None of those elements are necessarily bad, but it’s a field that’s getting so crowded that originality is starting to become a rare thing. Despite that, Hilburn does manage to inject some freshness into her setting and some of the scenarios, although many elements of the plot seemed a bit routine to me.
Kismet Knight is a psychologist looking for an idea. She needs to write her next book, and keep her profile up. She wants something interesting, and original, and maybe a little sensational too. But nothing has really caught her imagination. Then she meets her new client, Midnight. A teenage girl, Midnight has been referred by her family. They’re worried about her fixation on an older man, and more precisely about her desire to become a vampire like him. While Kismet is genuinely concerned about Midnight, she also becomes entranced by the idea of people who genuinely believe that they – or other people – are vampires. She wants to protect Midnight from the presumed predator who appears to be grooming her, but becomes distracted by the idea of becoming the Vampire Psychologist. Kismet will counsel “vampires” and wannabe vampires, and at the same time gather material for a truly original book.
Only problem is that it begins to look like vampires might not just be the product of deeply troubled psyches. They may actually exist. And they’re pretty scary. Not all of them are entirely sane. Several seem out to get Kismet. At least one is so sexy Kismet becomes a babbling idiot when he’s around. And then a sexy FBI agent turns up, and he very definitely believes in vampires. Kismet didn’t think doing her research would be this dangerous.
Sprightly characters are perhaps the greatest strength of this novel. Kismet herself was somewhat familiar – the shy but beautiful, intelligent and talented woman who behaves like an idiot when a sexy vampire grins at her, who does what he tells her unquestioningly at times, and who has a lot of sex with him very quickly. Yep, seen that character before. But Hilburn makes her shyness more believable than average and has built her a more realistic life and career than most writers with such characters. And the characters who surround her are generally lively and interesting; the vampire wannabes, and the FBI agent in particular transcend stereotypes to come to life. Unfortunately the vampires aren’t quite so inspired and I had very little sympathy for the romance between Kismet and Devereux. I didn’t see sparks, just a stupid woman who didn’t look after herself.
Although the overall plot seemed pretty familiar, some of the scenarios were original, and even a little humorous. Kismet being chased through a cemetery by disbelieving police, for example, managed both originality and some humor (albeit fairly dark). This, too contributed to the success of the novel; although the big picture wasn’t too original it was possible to get swept up enough in the smaller scenes to get carried through the whole book before you realise there’s not a lot of substance there. Hilburn also has an easy, conversational writing style which makes it very easy to turn the pages and speed through the book.
There are a number of clichés in the novel which irritated me to one degree or another. The lead female’s name, for example; not many people name their child Kismet, and it seems particularly outlandish for a sedate academic couple to do so. This is a small thing, and yet it didn’t quite sit right with me. Similarly, the fixation on “publish or perish” – that phrase is generally associated with academia, and I’m sure many practicing psychologists go along quietly for years or decades without publishing; Kismet’s fixation on this didn’t quite ring true.
There’s also a certain amount of babble in this novel – talk about other dimensions, for example, which is so vague as to provide merely an excuse for a few things that Hilburn wants to happen but can’t (or won’t) explain properly. This was a bit of a cheat in my opinion, and it dragged the novel down a little for me.
The Vampire Shrink isn’t a fantastic novel – it won’t change your life, and it’s only moderately memorable. And it’s a slightly disconcerting mix of originality and clichés. But it is quite enjoyable, and a fast-paced light read, and will provide a few diverting hours. It’ll probably appeal most to those who like a heavy dose of romance with their fantasy, but plenty of others will also find it amusing and entertaining.