Strange Practice: Great premise, bland plot

Strange Practice by Vivian Shaw science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsStrange Practice by Vivian Shaw science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsStrange Practice by Vivian Shaw

Greta Helsing, a 34 year old doctor, has a discreet medical practice in modern London. Her life’s mission is to study, help, and heal all of the supernatural creatures that most of the world is unaware of and would view as monsters if they did learn about them. As you might expect, this gets her into all sorts of weird situations that have been documented in Vivian Shaw’s DR GRETA HELSING series.

In this opening volume, we meet a couple of Greta’s best friends: Lord Ruthven, an ancient vampire who lives in a large gracious mansion in London, and Fastitocalon, a math-loving accountant’s assistant with COPD who can read minds and happens to be a demon.

When a brooding guilt-ridden vampyre named Sir Francis Varney (of the penny-dreadful called Varney the Vampyre) shows up to Ruthven’s house after being stabbed with a cross-shaped metal implement, Greta and her friends take him in and begin investigating. It appears that the attack may be related to a string of unsolved murders in London that are being committed by someone who’s been nicknamed “Rosary Ripper.” As they continue to investigate, they discover that the situation is a lot more complex, and dangerous, than the London police realize.

Vivian Shaw manages to create endearing monsters (vampires and demons!) by showing us that they are outcasts who are afraid of being discovered and who are meticulously cared for by a kindhearted doctor. This is quite an accomplishment. A recurring theme of the novel is the power of friendship.

While I admired many facets of Strange Practice (2017), such as the friendship theme and the entire concept of focusing on a doctor of the undead, I struggled to feel any connection to it. I thought the plot was bland and I had a hard time believing in the cooperative heaven/hell arrangement that underlies Shaw’s supernatural world.

But I believe what’s mostly lacking for me is the sense that Greta Helsing is anything beyond being a doctor. I always appreciate characters that are analytical, even clinical, in their outlooks on the world, and I admired the scenes where Greta was in her office tending to the odd ailments of supernatural creatures (this was very creative), but I didn’t get a sense of who Greta is under the lab coat. She also made a couple of mistakes that unnecessarily put herself or her staff in physical danger, something that moved the plot along but didn’t fit her modus operandi. I’m hoping that I’ll get to know Greta better in the next book, Dreadful Company.

It is possible that part of the problem is the narration by Susanna Hampton in Hachette Audio’s edition of Strange Practice. Her voice is so pretty, but her prosody is flat and she doesn’t use distinct voices for the different characters. This may have been a deliberate choice on Hampton’s part – the lack of enthusiasm fits Greta’s analytical and detached style, but if I had been reading the book to myself, I would have chosen to hear it differently in my head.

I’ve already got Dreadful Company and the third book, Grave Importance, on my phone, so I’m going to give them a try and hope I like them better. What I’m looking for is a more exciting plot and some more personality from Greta.

Published in 2017. Greta Helsing inherited the family’s highly specialized, and highly peculiar, medical practice. In her consulting rooms, Dr. Helsing treats the undead for a host of ills – vocal strain in banshees, arthritis in barrow-wights, and entropy in mummies. Although barely making ends meet, this is just the quiet, supernatural-adjacent life Greta’s been groomed for since childhood. Until a sect of murderous monks emerges, killing human and undead Londoners alike. As terror takes hold of the city, Greta must use her unusual skills to stop the cult if she hopes to save her practice, and her life.

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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