3.5 out of 5: It’s 1903, and a suspected vampire is on the loose in Ropraz, a small, forested town in Switzerland, described as a "land of wolves and neglect," oppressed by "four centuries of imposed ‘Calvinism.’” Even without vampires, Ropraz is a town steeped in suspicion and superstition:
Endlessly construing the threat from deep within and from without, from the forest, from the cracking of the roof, from the wailing of the wind, from the beyond, from above, from beneath, from below: the threat from elsewhere. You bar yourself inside you skull, your sleep, your heart, your senses; you bolt yourself inside your farmhouse, gun at the ready, with a haunted, hungry soul.
The terror begins in Jacques Chessex’s atmospheric novella when the recently buried corpse of 20-year-old Rosa Gilliéron, daughter of the town’s Justice of the Peace, is found unearthed and violently desecrated. The local paper quickly labels the perpetrator the “Vampire of Ropraz,” and the finger-pointing starts. Loaded with sexual tension and provincial overreaction, The Vampire of Ropraz is a dark portrait of a remote place trapped in its own suspicions and tortured by its oppressive religious beliefs: "There is, above all, welling up from generations of tortured brooding, the assurance of punishment from on high suspended over our lives."
Nine-tenths of The Vampire of Ropraz is a concise and masterful rendering of a dark place victimized by an even darker act. A bizarre, ironic twist at the very end of the story, however, throws a farcical light over the book, serving to undo much of the powerful effect achieved earlier. It's an unfortunate ending to a grimly entertaining tale.