Vampires have come a long way since 1897 when Bram Stoker published "Dracula." There have been rock 'n' roll vampires, stand-up comic vampires, romantic vampires and now in Joan Perucho's "Natural History," a Catalan vampire with political convictions.
Set in the Spain of the 1830s when liberal forces in support of Queen Isabel II and her mother, Maria Cristina, were fighting off a challenge from the pretender, Don Carlos, the novel describes a vampire hunt in war-torn Catalonia. The protagonist is the young liberal aristocrat and naturalist, Antoni de Montpalau, who has passion for collecting and classifying odd species and for whom even the common goat goes by the name of Capra Hispanica.
Although he has no belief in the supernatural and dismisses his cousin Isidre Novau's claim to have sighted the famous pesce cola as "nothing more than a hallucination caused by excessive ingestion of canned food," Montpalau's calm positivism is frequently disrupted--by the auguries of bats in flight, crazy bulls, a mysterious assassination attempt and puffs of smoke that take on unusual shapes.
And as inevitably as Sherlock Holmes is lured by the Hound of the Baskervilles, Montpalau is drawn to the village of Pratdip where every morning somebody is found dead with blood drained from the body and two small holes in the neck. Braving bandits and war and laden with garlic, Montpalau and his cousin Isidre make their way to Pratdip, which is dominated by a ruined castle, surrounded by a "veritable orgy of wild mushrooms, goats, partridges, lettuce and emeralds." Here they are met by the baroness d'Urpi and her daughter, Agnes, with whose help Montpalau identifies the vampire as 700-year-old Onofre de Dip who had been seduced by a Romanian vampire duchess but had returned to Catalonia out of nostalgia for his native land.