The Countess, by Rebecca Johns
BY LAURA VALERI
Reprinted from Fiction Writers Review
“The Bloody Countess” Erzsebet Bathorygained immortal fame as one of the first female serial killers; she was accused of brutally torturing and murdering over six-hundred young women.
But the countess was also a powerful widow holding sway over a considerable inheritance of land and money, and her family’s political allegiances were a problem for the regents. Was she really an unrepentant, psychopathic murderer—or was she simply a political obstacle to the king? Was she really bathing in the blood of her victims, or was she herself the victim of a witch hunt? Such questions haunt the pages of The Countess (Crown, 2010),Rebecca Johns’s lively historical novel about Countess Erzsebet Bathory of Hungary. Johns beautifully reconstructs the complexity of this 17th century scandal and brings alive the woman behind the myth.
When I picked up The Countess, I didn’t know what to expect. I read mostly literary fiction, so I wasn’t looking forward or hoping for a Gothic tale. I knew Johns’s work from her debut, Icebergs, a quiet novel about ordinary people’s struggles to overcome the extraordinary emotional damages of war. I had been so impressed with that novel’s understated emotional power that I decided to give Johns’s vision of the evil countess a try.
From the moment I started reading, I couldn’t stop. This fictional historical memoir drew me in with a voice irresistible for its clarity, intelligence and modern subtlety. Hardly the truculent blood-lusty pervert, Countess Bathory comes across as an intelligent woman who from a young age understands too well the responsibilities laid on her shoulders: to not only preserve the family’s name and riches, but to care for her youngest siblings against political turmoil, war, and shifting political allegiances. In the character’s own words: <Go To Review>