Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Blood Hunt

Before the TV shows FOREVER KNIGHT, ANGEL, BLOOD TIES, and MOONLIGHT, before Tanya Huff's mystery series on which BLOOD TIES was based, even a bit before P. N. Elrod's "Vampire Files" depression-era series of vampire detective novels, there was BLOOD HUNT (1987), by Lee Killough. It presents a fictional vampire who is a truly nice person, a type of characterization rare at the time. (There were already plenty of "good guy vampires," but few you'd consider exactly "nice.") Killough postulates that vampirism is an infectious disease caused by a virus, although in BLOOD HUNT that hypothesis is merely assumed by the vampires without being elaborated in any way. At least two factors don't seem to harmonize with the disease theory: The hero requires soil (not necessarily "native earth") to sleep on and can't enter a dwelling uninvited. As in most recent vampire fiction, conversion happens when the victim tastes the vampire's blood. Killough presents the gradual process of transformation from the vampire's point of view, another now familiar fictional device that was relatively uncommon at the time of this novel's publication. Garreth Mikaelian, a San Francisco police officer, investigates murders committed by a vampire, Lane Barber, who drains him to death. When he accidentally drinks some of her blood, she refrains from destroying him, because she longs for a companion. He rises as one of the undead and proceeds to investigate his own murder.

The core of the novel focuses on Garreth's gradual realization of and adjustment to the fact of his vampirism. He casts a reflection, in keeping with his supposedly non-supernatural nature. Sunlight causes him discomfort but does not kill him. He lives on animal blood, though it proves less than satisfying; highly ethical, he refuses to prey on people. Determined to bring Lane to justice, he traces her to her home town, where he makes a place for himself in the community—working the night shift on the local police force—while waiting for her to return. Vampire or not, Garreth remains a good cop, who adamantly resists the temptation to play vigilante. Even someone like Lane deserves due process of law. Circumstances finally free Garreth from the dilemma this philosophy imposes on him, and at the novel's end we see him as a small-town policeman who has come to terms with his new existence.

The strongest appeal of this novel, for me, is that Garreth's personality remains intact through his transformation. Again, that was still a refreshingly new approach in 1987. Instead of becoming a bloodthirsty demon, he stands in the far more interesting position of an ordinary man required to adjust to a new set of limits and temptations. In the sequel, BLOODLINKS (1988), Garreth is accustomed to his undead life but far from happy with it. Drawn back to San Francisco by a new string of mysterious murders, he meets the female vampire responsible for Lane's transformation and learns his friends and family can accept him even after they discover what he is. After a long hiatus, Killough published a third novel, BLOOD GAMES (2001), in which Garreth, fifteen years later, begins to face the aging of his mortal loved ones.

In the 1997 preface to BLOODWALK, an omnibus reprint of the first two books, Killough states that BLOOD HUNT was originally rejected over and over because, as a vampire novel that wasn't horror, it was therefore considered impossible to market. (Those editors must not have read Chelsea Quinn Yarbro's HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA.) How our field has changed (for the better)!

Margaret L. Carter
Carter's Crypt

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