Return of the Dragon

Fiction - Horror
275 Pages
Reviewed on 05/10/2016
Buy on Amazon

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    Book Review

Reviewed by Jack Magnus for Readers' Favorite

Return of the Dragon is an historical horror novel written by Alex J. Webster. Inspector Gheorghe Ianculescu is repelled by the investigations he is forced to take part in as a functionary of the People's Republic in Romania, and he's all too pleased to leave the more brutal aspects of the process to his colleague, Balan, who seems to enjoy that aspect of the job just a little too much. Gheorghe hates being a part of the militia, but he doesn't have much say in what he does or even who he lives with. When his old friend and sometimes partner, Radu Baboescu, is ordered to share Gheorghe's apartment, the two men go about learning to live with each other. But then Radu is sent by their boss, Chief Inspector Codreanu, to the nearby village of Bors to investigate the cases involving a number of missing children there. Codreanu's an unpleasant and ambitious man who Gheorghe is convinced is responsible for the deaths of many of his old friends and fellow WWII veterans, and who seems determined to destroy them as well. When Radu returns from the village, he is imprisoned by Codreanu on charges of complicity with the Order of the Dragon, who he is convinced is the deposed King Michael, but the danger posed by the Dragon is something else entirely.

Alex J. Webster's post-WWII horror novel, Return of the Dragon, is moody and atmospheric, which is exactly what I expected from this latest intrusion of Count Dracula into European affairs. Gheorghe Ianculescu is a compelling Romanian with Gypsy blood on his mother’s side, who has feet in both pre-war Romania and the newly established Soviet era, with its disregard for the traditions of the past and terrifying prisons where the disaffected are “educated.” There's a definite touch of irony in the juxtaposition of the intensely brutal politics of the Sovietized Romania and the Dragon, and, sometimes, one can't help but incline towards the tender mercies of the ancient monster over the Soviet machine.

Webster's plot is intense and irresistible, and his characters are finely drawn, especially Father Petre who helps Gheorghe continue the investigation into the village’s missing children after Radu is arrested, and tells him exactly who the inspector is dealing with. I especially loved the historical backdrop of this work and the slyly casual homage to Stoker's classic Dracula. While Return of the Dragon is categorized as a horror novel, it works quite well as an investigative mystery novel as well. That said, I'd love to see Gheorghe Ianculescu at work again in another 1950s historical novel. Return of the Dragon is most highly recommended.