Saturday, May 14, 2022

Detective Brand's Greatest Case

THE VAMPIRE; OR, DETECTIVE BRAND'S GREATEST CASE (1885), a 19th-century "dime novel," was recently revived as a trade paperback edited by Gary D. Rhodes and John Edgar Browning. Their background and analysis essay, "America's First Vampire and the Supernatural as Artifice," appears as an afterword rather than an introduction, probably to avoid inflicting spoilers on readers who might start with the editors' introduction. (I read it first anyway.) It surveys earlier nineteenth-century vampire fiction and the history of the dime novel, then discusses THE VAMPIRE in particular. Although this book was originally published anonymously, the "About the Author" preface cites evidence to identify Hawley Smart, a British army officer turned writer, as the probable author. Dime novels were short paperbacks of adventure, crime, suspense, and horror popular in the late nineteenth century. They seldom featured actual supernatural phenomena, as, indeed, THE VAMPIRE doesn't, although it does include ample suspense and horror. The publisher of this edition highlights it as "America's first vampire novel."

Murder victims turn up with punctures in their necks resembling fang marks. A police officer who discovers one body gets a glimpse of an ominous figure whose black cloak resembles the wings of a huge bird of prey. There's an orphaned damsel in distress, brought to New York as the mysterious beneficiary of a millionaire's inexplicable generosity. A stalwart young hero falls in love with her and helps to rescue her from the villain. We never learn definitely whether the "vampire" is simply a deranged serial killer who believes he needs blood or the need is genuine, enhancing the horror dimension of the story. New York landmarks and cultural elements (including stereotypical Irish-accented policemen) give the novel a convincingly realistic background to offset the melodramatic, often farfetched plot.

Detective Brand, as mentioned by the editors, somewhat foreshadows Sherlock Holmes. Brand is a brilliant investigator called in when the police are stumped. He's a bit eccentric and takes only cases that intrigue him because of their unusual features. He's also a master of disguise. Holmes, however, would certainly not let himself be lured to a strange woman's home—unless he recognized the trap and intended to turn the tables on the would-be seductress. Brand solves the murders at least as much by luck and coincidence as by rational deduction.

This is a fun, fast-paced mystery with abundant plot twists and life-threatening cliffhangers. Vintage vampire fans who can suspend disbelief and let themselves get swept along by the melodrama will probably relish it.

Margaret L. Carter

Please explore love among the monsters at Carter's Crypt.

Thursday, April 14, 2022

The Secret History of Vampires

THE SECRET HISTORY OF VAMPIRES (2007), edited by Darrell Schweitzer and Martin H. Greenberg, brings to mind Greenberg's THE TIME OF THE VAMPIRES (1996), another anthology of stories about vampires in different eras of the past. SECRET HISTORY, however, focuses more particularly on the theme of the undead meeting important historical persons at the nexus of pivotal events. As Schweitzer's introduction speculates, if immortal vampires manipulated events from the shadows through past centuries, what agendas might they have?

This all-original anthology starts with "Under St. Peter's," by bestselling alternate history writer Harry Turtledove. Most readers will probably guess the identity of the prisoner hidden under Vatican City well before the end, but the revelation is still grimly effective. In "A Princess of Spain," by Carrie Vaughn, we learn the truth behind the death of Prince Arthur, first husband of Catherine of Aragon. "Garbo Quits," by Ron Goulart, reveals why Greta Garbo's acting career ended. Gregory Frost, in "Ill-Met in Ilium," renders in narrative poetry an untold episode from the Trojan War. "Two Hunters in Manhattan," by Mike Resnick, takes place early in Teddy Roosevelt's career, while serving as the New York Commissioner of Police. "Sepulchres of the Undead," by Keith Taylor, is set in ancient Egypt. Saint Anthony appears as a vampire fighting his curse in "The Temptation of Saint Anthony," by Brian Stableford. P. D. Cacek, Sarah A. Hoyt, Tanith Lee, and John Gregory Betancourt, among others, also appear in the roster of contributors. Napoleon, Lenin, Helen of Troy, and Cleopatra are some of the other historical figures we meet.

My personal favorite is Chelsea Quinn Yarbro's "Harpy," set in ancient Greece, wherein her immortal Count Saint-Germain grants us a fresh perspective on the unfairly maligned wife of a famed philosopher. My only complaint about THE SECRET HISTORY OF VAMPIRES concerns the arrangement of the stories. Why aren't they printed in chronological order instead of scattered through the millennia seemingly at random?

Margaret L. Carter

Please explore love among the monsters at Carter's Crypt.

Monday, March 14, 2022

Vamps

The anthology VAMPS (1987), edited by Martin H. Greenberg and Charles G. Waugh, reprinted sixteen stories of female vampires, mostly from the nineteenth and early to mid-twentieth centuries, plus two more recent. Those two, "One for the Road," by Stephen King, and "Red as Blood," by Tanith Lee, may be familiar to many fans but not all. King's story revisits the abandoned town of 'Salem's Lot, where a few creatures of the night still lie in wait for unwary travelers. Tanith Lee creates an unforgettable dark fairy tale of Snow White as an unnatural child and her stepmother, the new queen, as a good witch intent on protecting her people.

This volume contains a few often-reprinted standards, making it a useful introductory text for novices in search of the female undead who lurk in the fiction of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. These include Theophile Gautier's "Clarimonda" (frequently published elsewhere under various English titles), J. Sheridan Le Fanu's "Carmilla," F. Marion Crawford's "For the Blood Is the Life" (the exhumation of the terrifying yet pitiable undead girl presents one of the most chilling images in this subgenre, in my opinion), and Fritz Leiber's modern take on the psychic vampire in an age of mass communication, "The Girl with the Hungry Eyes."

Among the other selections appear two of Manly Wade Wellman's many vampire tales, "The Last Grave of Lill Warran," a rural folk horror piece starring investigator of the supernatural John Thunstone, and "When It Was Moonlight," wherein Edgar Allan Poe tangles with an undead woman while researching premature burials. Robert Bloch's delightful "The Cloak," which was adapted (with many changes) as one segment of the film THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD, features an authentic vampire cape that transforms the wearer. Another sinister garment works a transformation in Richard Matheson's much darker story of a child vampire, "Dress of White Silk." We meet an energy-draining character in Mary Wilkins Freeman's "Luella Miller" and a wronged woman whose thirst for vengeance turns her into a revenant who returns with every snowstorm in "The Drifting Snow," by August Derleth. In one of my favorite vintage pulp stories, "She Only Goes Out at Night," by William Tenn, the young lady described in the title isn't evil at all, but the victim of a hereditary disease, ultimately controlled by modern medical science to give her a happy ending with the man she loves.

Julian Hawthorne ("Ken's Mystery," a tale of supernatural time travel in a haunted Irish countryside), David Keller ("Heredity," which draws upon obsolete concepts of "atavism" to explain its horrific scenario), and Seabury Quinn ("Restless Souls," one of many stories featuring occult expert Jules de Grandin) complete the roster of distinguished authors. Readers could hardly ask for a more wide-ranging yet deeply rooted overview of the female vampire trope in classic and vintage fiction. My only complaint is that the contents aren't in chronological order, as would be logical. Amazon offers reasonably priced secondhand copies of at least three different editions of this book.

Margaret L. Carter

Please explore love among the vampires at Carter's Crypt.

Monday, February 14, 2022

Draculas

I picked up DRACULAS (2010), an unusual collaboration among Blake Crouch, Jack Kilborn, Jeff Strand, and F. Paul Wilson, because the premise intrigued me: Mortimer Moorecock, an elderly, sick, very wealthy man, buys a bizarre skull discovered in a farmer's field in Romania. Although humanoid, it isn't a specimen of any recognized hominid species, having a jaw full of shark-like teeth. On the wild chance that the skull actually came from a vampire, Moorecock expects it to rejuvenate him. Never mind that if the creature belonged to a different species, its nature couldn't be contagious, and if the vampiric condition is transmitted by venom or a microorganism, surely neither would be viable after thousands or millions of years in the ground. Nevertheless, upon contact with the fangs Moorecock almost instantly displays alarming symptoms. After he's rushed to a hospital, in a terrifyingly brief time he transforms into a ravening monster. Since anyone bitten changes rapidly, the infection—portrayed as a contagious disease—spreads from the emergency room throughout the building.

Given the nearly mindless condition of most of the victims, the scenario resembles a localized version of a zombie apocalypse. I find it slightly strange that the viewpoint characters label the monsters "draculas" instead of vampires; it's been many decades since Count Dracula was the only pop-culture vampire most people had come across. Scenes are narrated from multiple viewpoints, each chapter helpfully headed with the name of the viewpoint character. Heroes, antagonists, and ordinary people caught in the random outbreaks of violence all get their moments in the spotlight. Some of the characters are sympathetic and appealing, many of them not so much. The narrative is heavy on action, violence, and rapid-fire dialogue, low on introspection. Still, we do get acquainted with some of the characters thoroughly enough to root for them and feel sorry if the monsters kill them, which happens often.

The scenes are interwoven so smoothly that the reader can't tell when one of the four authors replaces another. (At least, I couldn't.) An afterword, consisting of a dialogue among the authors, discusses the development of the novel's concept and how the collaboration worked. I was slightly disappointed that we never learn much about either the skull's origin or the biology and physiology of the "draculas," my main interest. The unremitting suspense and life-or-death danger to the few admirable characters held my attention to the end. But I didn't care for the extreme violence and gore or the too-frequent instances of what used to be called "four-letter words." While I admire the skillful plotting and writing, if the novel had a sequel I wouldn't feel motivated to seek it out. This is a book for readers who enjoy fast-paced horror fiction with graphically bloody scenes. In short (to quote somebody or other), if you like this kind of thing, this is the kind of thing you'll like.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Friday, January 14, 2022

A Vampire Christmas Carol

As suggested by the title, A VAMPIRE CHRISTMAS CAROL (2011), by Sarah Gray, is another posthumous "collaboration" similar to PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES and LITTLE VAMPIRE WOMEN (reviewed here last month). Subtitled "Ebenezer Scrooge, Vampire Slayer," Gray's adaptation of A CHRISTMAS CAROL depends less on incongruity than many of those works. It isn't that much of a stretch to envision Scrooge stalked by vampires as well as haunted by ghosts. A VAMPIRE CHRISTMAS CAROL also alters and embellishes the plot of its model more than many other such adaptations do. For example, Scrooge's former fiancee, Belle, appears in the present and plays a vital role in Scrooge's redemption. Remaining in touch with him and never having married, she hosts a house of refuge for vampire hunters. As far as Scrooge's membership in the fraternity of slayers is concerned, the book's subtitle applies only to the final section, after he awakens on Christmas morning prepared to do his part in the battle against evil.

In this alternate England vampires are known to exist, although not everyone believes in them. Scrooge is one of the skeptics, applying his "Bah, humbug" philosophy to the notion of vampires as well as Christmas and charity to the poor. In this version of the tale, he employs two clerks, one of whom is a minion of the undead. On the other hand, Bob Cratchit and Scrooge's nephew, Fred, are hunters. The tenants in the cellar of Scrooge's own house are vampires, unsuspected by him. In answer to Belle's prayers, Marley visits Scrooge to set him straight on all those matters as well as the truth of his own past. Under the guidance of the Ghost of Christmas Past, he learns how the Queen of Vampires has dominated his fate from the shadows for his entire life. In this novel vampires are irredeemably evil, and the author plays the horror absolutely straight.

A VAMPIRE CHRISTMAS CAROL, in my opinion, elaborates on the classic novel enough to qualify as a work of fanfiction rather than a simple parody.

Margaret L. Carter

Please explore love among the monsters at Carter's Crypt.

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Little Vampire Women

It's easy to guess that LITTLE VAMPIRE WOMEN (2010), adapted by Lynn Messina from Louisa May Alcott's classic novel, followed in the wake of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES (2009) and similar reimaginings of public domain works. (A few others published around the same period include LITTLE WOMEN AND WEREWOLVES, SENSE AND SENSIBILITY AND SEA MONSTERS, JANE SLAYRE, and WUTHERING BITES.) LITTLE VAMPIRE WOMEN strikes me as more successfully transformative than PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES because of the former's greater consistency of tone. PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES veers between genuine horror and moments of sheer silliness, while LITTLE VAMPIRE WOMEN mostly maintains the original's mix of light domestic problems and more serious tribulations along a smooth continuum with little or no jarring dissonance.

Most of the familiar incidents from Alcott's novel appear in Messina's adaptation, but they're rewritten in vampire-centered terms. The girls are much like their prototypes, aside from sleeping in coffins and drinking blood. The book begins with the unforgettable line, "Christmas won't be Christmas without any corpses." Not human corpses, however. The March family embraces the "humanitarian" way of life (or undeath), never feeding on non-consenting human donors. Impoverished compared to their former condition, although (like their models in the original) still able to maintain their home and pay Hannah, their faithful housekeeper, they live on blood purchased from the butcher shop. Small animals such as rodents comprise rare treats, and the girls envy their acquaintances who can afford luxuries such as live cows. Four orphaned sisters, they were "sired" by Mr. March when he and Marmee longed for children. After more than thirty years as vampires, Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy still look, think, and behave like teenagers. The fact that they never age seems inconsistent with the statement that young vampires are considered mature at age fifty and expected to strike out into the world. If those turned as children or young teens never grow up, how can they live on their own? Also, an offhand remark that vampires have walked the earth long before the human species seems impossible if all vampires are transformed humans. Neither of these points, however, affects the plot.

The overarching conflict focuses on vampire slayers, who hunt the undead regardless of whether they're vicious or (as most are) benign. Jo aspires to join the ranks of defenders who protect vampires against slayers. Instead of writing stories, she compiles a notebook of combat techniques and facts about slayers. It's this book, rather than a novel manuscript, that Amy burns in a fit of rage. Aunt March, whom Jo grudgingly serves as a paid companion, is a paranoid old (400 years) lady who views all mortals as potential slayers like the one who decapitated her husband. Beth, like her classic counterpart, loves kittens, although her pets suffer rapid turnover. Amy and Meg try to emulate more prosperous, fashionable vampires, but Amy becomes a gifted artist as she matures, and Meg, as in the original, falls in love with Laurie's tutor, John Brooke. Jo, practicing the skills she's learning from Gentleman Jackson, a distinguished trainer of vampire defenders, suspects Brooke of being a slayer who deliberately infected Beth and their father with a disease fatal to vampires. Human neighbor Laurie wants to become a vampire but meanwhile enjoys his years as a college student. Professor Bhaer, Jo's eventual husband, is a 600-year-old Transylvanian, whose wisdom guides her in her slayer-fighting career.

Fans of LITTLE WOMEN whose interests also encompass vampires will probably find this adaptation entertaining.

Margaret L. Carter

Please explore love among the monsters at Carter's Crypt.

Sunday, November 14, 2021

The Spy Who Drank Blood

Gordon Linzner, long-time editor of SPACE AND TIME magazine, wrote an odd little (127 pages) thriller called THE SPY WHO DRANK BLOOD (1984), starring a vampire with a definite license to kill. The title echoes both THE SPY WHO LOVED ME and the horror movie THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD. Code-named Blood (naturally), Linzner's secret agent is kept on a tighter leash than James Bond. Blood, who has long since abandoned his original name, became a vampire after getting killed while on assignment in the Balkans in 1961. He doesn't sleep in a coffin, but in a similarly-shaped casket in a cryogenic chamber. When needed for a mission, he's awakened by his handler, Arthur Blanchard. Bottled blood awaits the vampire after his revival, along with personal care supplies and fresh clothes. He then receives his orders, ordinarily in writing, but at the beginning of this novel, he's summoned to speak with Blanchard in person. It's immediately clear that Blood resists any attempt at maintaining personal connections from his mortal days, as shown by his flare-up of anger when Blanchard calls him by his old name.

As the reader has already witnessed in the opening scene, Blanchard's daughter, Andrea, a journalist on the track of an alleged strange creature lurking in the Everglades, has been kidnapped by terrorists. Rescue of a sort comes at the hands, or claws, of a monster who attacks her captors and carries her off. That's when the story shifts to Blood's awakening and his briefing by Blanchard. Dispatched to the area where Andrea was kidnapped, the agent poses as a journalist investigating her disappearance. The novel, told from multiple viewpoints, contains plenty of twists, fast-moving action, and combat scenes. Blood, of course, uses his inhuman powers to accomplish feats an ordinary man couldn't. When he finds Andrea, he also uncovers the ghastly truth about the swamp monster. While the undead protagonist and his covert employment hold plenty of series potential, no sequels were apparently published, at least none at book length discoverable on Amazon.

The vampire agent essentially has no life outside his job. Between missions, he rests in suspended animation. When revived for a mission, he focuses on it to the exclusion of anything else. Aside from his craving for blood, he seems driven solely by loyalty to his professional obligations.

I was surprised to find that Amazon has a 2019 reprint edition for sale, new. If you like both vampires and spy-thriller pastiches of the James-Bond-inspired type, you might enjoy this book.

Margaret L. Carter

Please explore love among the monsters at Carter's Crypt.

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Varney the Vampyre

The title character of VARNEY THE VAMPYRE; OR, THE FEAST OF BLOOD (1847) is one of the "big four" classic nineteenth-century fictional vampires, the others being Lord Ruthven in John Polidori's "The Vampyre" (1819), Carmilla in J. Sheridan Le Fanu's novella by that name (1872), and of course Count Dracula (1897, coincidentally fifty years after the book publication of VARNEY). Neither of them, incidentally, has to worry about destruction by sunlight, a trope invented in the silent film NOSFERATU. VARNEY originated as a "penny dreadful," published in multiple cheap installments before its release in three-volume book form in 1847. Originally its authorship was attributed to Thomas Preskett (sometimes cited as "Peckett") Prest, but now James Malcolm Rymer is generally accepted as the principal author. Most likely, several writers contributed to the novel, given its internal inconsistencies. The narrative offers least two different versions of Sir Francis Varney's age, backstory, and method of becoming a vampire. His powers, limitations, and personality also change over the course of the 800-plus pages.

The book's quality is uneven, to say the least. It's rambling and repetitious, with Varney constantly trying to marry innocent young woman, a motif probably borrowed from several of the many stage plays starring Polidori's Lord Ruthven. In each episode, Varney is thwarted and driven out of town, often by a vampire-hunting retired admiral and his comic-relief sidekick. The typical modern reader isn't likely to find much of the alleged humor very funny. The longest and most effective episode is the first, when Varney pursues a maiden named Flora Bannerworth. The often reprinted opening scene of the book, his attack on Flora in her bed, portrays a bloodcurdling assault by an inhuman monster with dead, gray eyes like polished metal. He escapes, pursued and shot by Flora's male protectors, only to vanish when moonlight revives him from apparent death (again, like Lord Ruthven). In later scenes, he poses as a wealthy gentleman readily accepted in the home of his upper-class neighbors. The influence of the Byronic anti-hero tradition is readily apparent at some points, especially when he visits Flora alone and pleads for her sympathy. In another memorable sequence late in the novel, Varney transforms a female victim into a vampire; her grieving friends go to her tomb and destroy her in a scene that strikingly foreshadows the staking of Lucy in DRACULA.

Varney develops into an early incarnation of the repentant vampire. At the end, he confesses his crimes to a clergyman, then travels to Italy where, in a fit of remorse, he immolates himself by plunging into the crater of Mount Vesuvius.

The book remained essentially unobtainable until the 1970s, with only a few copies known to have survived. Now you can find multiple editions on Amazon, including some cheap or free Kindle versions. If you decide to check out VARNEY, make sure you're getting the complete novel, since one publisher markets it in several volumes, each sold separately.

Margaret L. Carter

Please explore love among the monsters at Carter's Crypt.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

A Taint in the Blood

It's hard to believe S. M. Stirling's A TAINT IN THE BLOOD (2010) has already passed the ten-year mark since publication, which qualifies it as an "older work" by the criterion I've been using for these posts. The trilogy of which it's the first volume may be undeservedly obscure among the vampire fan community, since Stirling is best known for his alternate history science fiction. So here's my attempt to remedy that omission.

Stirling's Shadowspawn trilogy takes obvious inspiration from Jack Williamson's classic DARKER THAN YOU THINK (1940). There's even an explicit homage to that novel in one passage of dialogue. Like Williamson's Homo lycanthropus, the Shadowspawn embody the truth behind the legends of werewolves, vampires, witches, demons, incubi, and cruel gods who demand human sacrifice. Myths and fairy tales worldwide preserve ancestral memories of the prehistoric Empire of Shadow. These creatures can leave their bodies and, while incorporeal, wear different shapes. They can twist probability to perform feats that look like magic to ordinary mortals. At death, if they successfully transition, they become permanently incorporeal and much more powerful than in the "birth body." Silver hurts them, and sunlight and nuclear radiation have deadly effects on the incorporeal form. Stirling updates the concept with references to DNA and quantum entanglement. For instance, in order to assume the astral form of another animal or person, his vampires must ingest material containing the DNA of the chosen subject. They have immense power to control human minds and manipulate the target's perception of reality, including the ability to "carry" the psyche of a victim within their own mental landscape, indistinguishable in all sensory respects from the material world. The Shadowspawn can even extend this captivity beyond the subject's physical death, granting a nightmarish sort of immortality. Members of the Homo sapiens nocturnus species frequently indulge in the consumption of human blood for the pleasure of it, although while still in the birth body they can enjoy ordinary food. Moreover, they require blood to fuel "Wreaking," the exercise of their psychic gifts. In the process of Wreaking, they sometimes speak a sinister, ancient tongue called Mhabrogast, which is either the native language of Hell, the operating code of the universe, or both.

Adrian, the hero, and his cruel yet charismatic twin sister Adrienne are among the few near-purebloods, having a higher percentage of Shadowspawn genes than anyone previously born since the fall of the Empire of Shadow. Their twin children (conceived several years before A TAINT IN THE BLOOD through Adrienne's incestuous rape of Adrian) are, of course, even less human, but the second and third volumes of the trilogy strongly imply that, under Adrian's care, they may grow up valuing humanity as he does. Adrian remains recognizable as a dangerous, inhuman predator even while he struggles against his darker urges, determined to live as a "good" monster. To fuel his powers, he drinks bottled blood, which tastes terrible. As part of Adrienne's ongoing love-hate obsession with her brother, she kidnaps his human lover, Ellen, who until that night has no idea of his true nature. Adrian has broken away from his species' bloodthirsty lifestyle and is trying to live as nearly as possible like an ordinary human man. He works with his old friend and mentor from the Brotherhood, a secret organization fighting against the Shadowspawn. Most of its members, ironically, carry a higher than average proportion of nocturnus genes and use the resulting psychic abilities to protect ordinary humanity. In the process of Adrian's rescue of Ellen, the couple gets entangled in the Brotherhood's fight against a long-term plot to reduce Earth's overpopulation (as the Shadowspawn see it) and restore the vampire-shapeshifter-sorcerers' open rule over humanity. The sequels, THE COUNCIL OF SHADOWS and SHADOWS OF FALLING NIGHT, narrate the outcome of this conflict.

The main limits on the Shadowspawn's power arise from their sociopathic level of sadism and their reluctance, as solitary predators, to trust each other. Only their residual human genes enable them to work together at all. Despite their preternatural powers, they are on average no more intelligent than ordinary people; in fact, reliance on their psychic gifts tends to make them mentally lazy as well as arrogant. Since they've bred with their human prey over the millennia, near-purebloods are rare, and many members of the general population have some measure of the vampires' paranormal mental abilities. Depending on the percentage of Homo sapiens nocturnus genes, the resulting traits range from simple talents for reliable "hunches" to psychic powers that approach those of true Shadowspawn. Both the vilest tyrants and the holiest saints tend to have high proportions of nocturnus DNA, the latter reacting against their predatory instincts. Individuals who fall in the middle of the continuum, with enough Shadowspawn genes to crave blood but not enough to gain nourishment from it, become deranged serial killers. Some people willingly submit to the monsters and embrace the roles of "renfields" (servants and employees) and "lucies" (blood donors). Lucies are bound to their masters or mistresses by a blend of fear, addiction, and sometimes adoration, while renfields serve from a variety of motives, from the purely mercenary to a sense of obligation for favors received.

These three novels sparkle with lively characterization, sharply witty dialogue, and complex worldbuilding. The exposition of Shadowspawn evolution and biology is fascinating, and I wished for lots more of it. Adrian comes across as an irresistibly engaging good-guy monster. Ellen, while imprisoned in the luxurious private community that's essentially a very comfortable Shadowspawn livestock ranch, never succumbs to despair and even holds her own against Adrienne, at the same time making friends with some of the other lucies and ultimately cooperating in her own escape. Yes, the Shadowspawn-lucy dynamic includes sadomasochism, but it's only implied and discussed, never graphically portrayed. I'm thoroughly squeamish about such things, yet nothing in the trilogy squicked me. I consider A TAINT IN THE BLOOD one of the best vampire novels of the new millennium so far, a thrill no fan of scientifically explained vampires, werewolves, and magic should pass up. Although the third volume concludes with potential hooks for more stories, unfortunately as far as I know there's no prospect of additional sequels.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Saturday, August 14, 2021

Nice Girls Don't Have Fangs

NICE GIRLS DON'T HAVE FANGS (2009), by Molly Harper, begins the comedy-suspense-paranormal-romance Half-Moon Hollow series. Small-town librarian Jane Jameson tells her story in the first person, in an engagingly sardonic tone but not snarky enough to make her unlikable. I sympathized instantly with her being fired from her library position for budgetary reasons. She retreats to a nearby bar, where she meets a tall, dark stranger named Gabriel Nightengale (sic). After a long discussion about English literature, he walks her to her car, which she begins carefully driving home. When it breaks down, she staggers into a ditch, gets shot by mistake for a deer, and awakens as one of the undead. Not unnaturally, when she finds herself in a bed in Gabriel's house, she suspects him of drugging and kidnapping her. Once he manages to convince her that he's a vampire and now she is, too, she's less shocked than we would be.

In this version of the present-day world, vampires came out to the public shortly before the turn of the millennium. Although legally protected for the most part, they're still viewed with distrust by most people, with the killing of a vampire by an ordinary mortal automatically classified as self-defense. The majority of vampires lead peaceful existences, as they always have, now with the convenience of openly willing donors, bagged blood, and even synthetic blood. While the sun doesn't necessarily destroy them, they're highly vulnerable to it, although they can go out in daylight in some circumstances. They're sensitive to silver, but reactions to religious objects depend on their beliefs during their mortal lives. As Jane discovers to her dismay, ordinary food tastes like ashes. She gets much of the necessary background information on her altered lifestyle from THE GUIDE FOR THE NEWLY UNDEAD, quotations from which serve as the novel's chapter headings.

She returns home, where her undead extrasensory perception reveals that she's sharing the house with her recently deceased elderly aunt. Jane conceals her changed status from her living family members, a choice that seems to me like an unnecessary complication, given that everybody knows vampires exist. This deception doesn't extend past the first book, anyway. The town's vampire community takes in the heroine, leading to a job in a telemarketing call center, which turns out as dismal as one would expect. The dominant member of the vampire equivalent of the welcome wagon, Missy, develops from an annoyance to a serious antagonist. Jane gets accused of murdering another vampire and has to face the local vampire council. Meanwhile, naturally, romantic tension builds between her and Gabriel. In a later book, she works in an occult bookstore, a job much more suited to her temperament and skills. In the second volume, werewolves take center stage, and judging from the titles of some novels in the expanded series, witches and other supernatural-related beings hang around Half-Moon Hollow, too.

The breezy narrative style entertained me without becoming insufferably irritating like Betsy's voice in Mary Janice Davidson's series (as I, at least, found it after a couple of books). The setting and characters of NICE GIRLS DON'T HAVE FANGS supply quirky variations on the contemporary fantasy trope of a community where supernatural creatures exist side by side with mundanes. The series offers suspense, lovers' trials, and occasional danger along with lots of humor, as the heroine adjusts to unlife in a small-town, suburban environment.

Margaret L. Carter

Please explore love among the monsters at Carter's Crypt.