Many of you have probably read part or all of P. N. Elrod’s “Vampire Files” series. The adventures of Jack Fleming, journalist turned vampire detective, began with BLOODLIST (1990). Published not long after Lee Killough’s BLOOD HUNT, Elrod’s novel coincidentally shares a similar plot premise: A newly risen vampire solves his own murder. The two authors develop the basic idea very differently, though.
BLOODLIST, narrated in the first person by investigative reporter Jack Fleming, begins by plunging the reader into a tense action scene in which Jack wakes up on a beach and almost immediately becomes the victim of a deliberate hit-and-run attack. It turns out that a Chicago gangster wants him dead, and he has to find out who and why, handicapped by gaps in his memory as a result of his violent death. Rising as a vampire comes as a shock to Jack but not a total surprise. Maureen, his former lover, who disappeared five years earlier, had warned him he might become one of the undead. In Elrod’s universe, creating a new vampire isn’t automatic or easy. Even with repeated blood exchanges, the human partner may or may not transform after death. Jack has most of the vampire traits established in DRACULA and other classic tales: He has fangs and feeds on blood, which need not be human. (He gets most of his meals at the Chicago Stockyards.) He can “vanish,” as he thinks of it, analogous to Dracula’s turning into mist, and pass through solid objects in that form. Elrod’s vampires can’t change into bats or other animals, though. He can control people with his mind. Unlike Dracula but like most twentieth-century popular culture vampires, he can’t stand sunlight. Unlike some other sun-vulnerable vampires, he falls into an involuntary coma throughout the daylight hours, a definite disadvantage. He also needs earth to rest on, which he digs up from his family’s burial plot. As would be expected, he remains the same physical age as when he “died” (in fact, oddly, turning into a vampire makes him look about ten years younger than he really is), so in later installments of the series people underestimate him because he doesn’t look his chronological age.
In BLOODLIST he meets the other principal character in the series, British detective (or “private agent,” as he prefers) and former actor Charles Escott. Charles discovers Jack’s true nature and confronts him out of curiosity rather than fear or hostility. He volunteers to help track down Jack’s killers, and the two men become partners. The character of Charles is clearly a pastiche of Sherlock Holmes, with the same deductive genius and a similar facial appearance. In an interview years later, Elrod confirmed in almost so many words that Charles was meant to be Holmes’s son; for details, she referred readers to Doyle’s “The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton.” Throughout the Vampire Files books, the contrast between Charles’s cool intellect and Jack’s warmhearted impulsiveness provides constant entertainment. Also in BLOODLIST, Jack rescues a night club singer named Bobbi, who becomes his true love. Their love scenes in some of the novels, though not frequent or very explicit, are deeply sensual.
As you may know, Elrod has continued this series almost to the present, with new installments released not long ago. Jack demonstrates Elrod’s premise that vampires don’t have to be evil; they’re transformed human beings, not demons. They make ethical choices like any other person dealing with a difficult life condition. We see Jack as a decent man wrestling with moral and existential quandaries as he becomes ever more deeply immersed in an underworld where the right choice is often far from obvious. It’s best to read the books in order from the beginning to watch him come to terms with his vampirism and develop a network of relationships among the shadier elements of Chicago society.
Margaret L. CarterCarter's Crypt