Title: The Countess
Author: Rebecca Johns
Release Date: October 12, 2010
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: Amazon Vine
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
At the beginning of The Countess, Countess Erzebet Bathory is being imprisoned in a tower to pay for her crimes of killing young women. She claims her innocence and writes the book as a letter to her son, protesting that she has been falsely accused and trying to explain her life story from her own point of view.
From the very first time I heard it, the premise of The Countess intrigued me. The story of the first female serial killer? It sounded completely fascinating. I hadn’t heard much of anything about the historical Erzebet Bathory - apparently known as “The Blood Countess” - so I was eager to read her story and see what I could learn about this woman.
Having read it, I don’t know what to think about The Countess. It was alternately fascinating and slow, but I believe that was the point of the book. The reader gives Erzebet the benefit of the doubt as she takes us through her life, starting from a young age. Her marriage was arranged at an extremely young age, and Erzebet was resigned to a life without love, in which her husband could barely stand to look at her. The reader can’t help but feel sympathy for this poor creature, who only wants approval and to feel the warmth of love.
Her darker nature worms its way to the surface insidiously, without the reader even realizing it. In her desire to win the heart of her husband, who has a cruel nature, she begins to exact increasingly twisted punishments on misbehaving servants. Presumably, this escalates, though a lot of what happens goes on behind the scenes. I’m thankful for that in some ways because I really didn’t want to read a book full of gore, but on the other had, the bulk of the book seems to be Erzebet contemplating running her household. This makes sense, because the murder of a servant girl or two would barely register in her mind if she was a serial killer, but it made some parts of the book very slow. At the same time, though, it makes the reader wonder if anything is really going on, or if Erzebet's claim that she is being framed is actually true.
The most fascinating part of this book is watching everything unfold. Erzebet is cold and dispassionate at times, but is that because she is a serial killer, or because her biggest concern really is running her household? The reader is constantly guessing, wondering what is going on behind the scenes.
Another small issue: the pacing of this novel is very strange. I felt like the author jumped over very large parts of Erzebet’s life in a few paragraphs. One page she was thirteen years old, then all of a sudden, a few pages later she was thirty-five. (That’s probably an exaggeration, but that was really the way it felt.) I understand that Johns wanted to focus on the most interesting parts of Erzebet’s life, but at the same time, it threw me off.
The Countess had its flaws, but overall, it was a very interesting peek into the mind of a serial killer. This is a book that would make an excellent book club pick because readers will be itching to discuss whether Erzebet is actually a serial killer and where her darker nature emerged from. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for what Johns does next.