Saturday, October 15, 2016

Love Bite

LOVE BITE (1994), by Sherry Gottlieb, features a solitary vampire looking for a mate. Risha Cardigan, nicknamed Rusty, was converted in 1969 by a 300-year-old vampire, Gregor, who eventually committed suicide. Gottlieb's vampire mythos includes an unusual twist on the effect of sunlight. It doesn't destroy vampires in itself; however, it instantly advances them to their true ages. For most, that equals annihilation. As far as Rusty knows, she is the only remaining vampire. Transformation in this novel can't happen by accident. It's a deliberate choice and a lengthy, hazardous process. Rusty works as a photographer in Los Angeles and lives alone except for her long-time, devoted human servant, Elliott. Among many other tasks, he does her hair and makeup for her because of her lack of a reflection. Succumbing to loneliness, she places a personal ad: "What would you do to live happily ever after? Mythical creature seeks mate who can believe." In between winnowing the replies and meeting likely candidates, she continues her usual feeding habits, which result in two or three dead bodies per week. She slashes the victims' throats with a knife to disguise the bite marks. When one of her dates has to be killed, the connection threatens to lead the police to her.

The other principal viewpoint character, homicide detective Jace Levy, investigates the serial killing spree and gets acquainted with Rusty, whom he knows as Risha (so he doesn't immediately link her with the personal ad). A strong attraction develops between them. Jace, meanwhile, has started showing early symptoms of Huntington's disease, which killed his mother. The experienced vampire fan can easily guess where this relationship is destined to go.

The reader is clearly meant to sympathize with Rusty, and she's an entertaining, attractive character—except for her habit of serial murder. This moral dissonance becomes obvious as soon as one stops to think about it. Good cop Jace's reaction to discovering the truth about her is particularly jarring. A couple of points that call into question the logic of the plot, in my opinion: Why does she kill whenever she feeds, anyway? We're told that a single feeding drains at least half the blood in an adult body, often more, hence the victim's inevitable death. Three or more quarts of blood going into a human-size stomach in a few minutes' time? A vampire is a corporeal being, after all, and the book doesn't offer any magical explanation for this phenomenon. I have the same problem with a lot of "gasp, the body was completely drained of blood!" vampire fiction. Furthermore, if she's resided in the same area for years, regularly leaving throat-slashed corpses around, why is the police department just noticing them now?

At the time of the book's publication, Gottlieb lived in southern California, and for many years she owned the Change of Hobbit bookstore. LOVE BITE displays her intimate knowledge of the Los Angeles setting. Pop culture references pepper the text (including a mention of Ellen Datlow's vampire anthology A WHISPER OF BLOOD), and there's even a cameo appearance by Ray Bradbury. The novel was adapted as a TV movie (which, as far as I can find, isn't available on DVD).

Margaret L. Carter

Explore love among the monsters at Carter's Crypt.

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