Chapter 31 (SIR FRANCIS VARNEY AND HIS MYSTERIOUS VISITOR. -- THE STRANGE CONFERENCE.) starts off with the most awkward segue into an irrelevant story-within-a-story in the book so far. I know there have only been three, so there's not much competition, but this just isn't even trying.
The chapter starts off great, with a very deep and humanizing portrayal of Varney as he awaits a visitor who is clearly more frightening than himself. Even the awkward exposition seems to fit, for once:
"It is near the hour," he muttered "it is now very near the hour; surely he will come, and yet I know not why I should fear him, although I seem to tremble at the thought of his approach. He will surely come. Once a year -- only once does he visit me, and then 'tis but to take the price which he has compelled me to pay for that existence, which but for him had been long since terminated. Sometimes I devoutly wish it were."And then the clock strikes eleven. Varney freaks out, thinking it was twelve, and stresses over the fact that he has to wait another entire hour. So he picks up a book and reads a stupid little story, and we don't get to meet this mysterious stranger until the next chapter.
Just as whiplash is not the same thing as conflict, padding is not the same thing as suspense. Varney's "oh no, it's only eleven!" speech just sounds ungodly silly, especially after the good bits at the beginning of the chapter. I suppose one could argue that it only being eleven humanizes him more, since he's so scared he can't even keep track of time, and I'd find it plausible that this was JMR's intention. But it doesn't work, because the scene is just so contrived.
I'm still on the edge of my seat waiting for the next chapter -- and I'm not being at all sarcastic -- because I presume we're going to meet Varney's maker and start to really sink our teeth into the vampire mythos in Varney, and I'm excited for that. But it has nothing to do with your writing style, JMR, so wipe that smug grin off your face.
Chapter 32: In Which Varney's Fear Makes Him Look Silly, Not Human