Thursday, June 26, 2008

Review: Already Dead by Charlie Huston

Charlie Huston's Already Dead (US, UK, Canada) takes the prototypical hard-boiled, noir detective template and injects it into a world of vampires. The result is not the Buffy-inspired urban fantasy romp that dominates the fantasy market these days, but a true noir detective tale that happens to star a vampire struggling for independence in clan dominated underworld.

Joe Pitt is fed up with the warring vampire clans and their hierarchy of rule. He ekes out an existence as a rogue living in one clan’s territory (The Society) while performing the odd job for various clients, including the dominant rival clan (The Coalition) of mid-town Manhattan. Clan tyranny and politics make it difficult on an independent in the secret underworld of vampires and Pitt walks a fine line playing the various factions off one another as he struggles to survive.

After an encounter with a trio of squatters infected with a flesh-eating strain of bacteria (aka zombies), Pitt ends up in unpleasant encounters with the leaders of both the Coalition and Society. As a result he is left with a new job through the Coalition – to find the missing daughter of a rich and powerful woman. Relatively standard progression occurs as Pitt investigates with an escalation in complexity and danger that sweeps him away, revealing the man behind the vampire and the sometimes moralistic rage encompassing both.

Huston’s world offers clever and adequate explanations for the how and why behind vampirism other supernatural phenomenon. Vampires are infected with an unknown to science virus colloquial known as the vyrus. It feeds upon human blood and gives the infected superhuman qualities that enable them to become superior hunters. The vampires of Huston’s world laugh at, subvert, utilize, and manipulate pop-culture’s embracing of vampires. Zombies result from an infection of flesh-eating bacteria that animates its dying host with hormones to keep it searching for other food sources (i.e. victims to infect). Brains are craved due to their high content of valuable hormones used to keep the host viable.

Huston envisions the dark side of Manhattan most choose to look past while creating the perfect sense of antagonistic paranoia. This world of the dispossessed, criminals, and others exists and thrives beyond the law with the vampire clans even further beneath this underworld. Here the clans both supplement and replace the organized crime networks common to the noir world where the rich and powerful, human and vampire alike, use and abuse this world to their own ends.

The best part of Already Dead is Joe Pitt – a classic anti-hero, noir detective-who-is-not-actually-a-detective. Pitt’s history brings an extra dimension of depth often missing – a childhood of horrible abuse, an adolescence and young-adulthood of abusing, a role as enforcer within a vampire clan, and finally, a rejection of it all and the attainment of a some-what flawed moral high ground and sense of justice. Much of this comes about in his introspective thoughts surrounding his girlfriend, Evie – a young HIV-infected bartender. She refuses to risk infecting Pitt, and Pitt struggles with the knowledge that his vampirism, unknown to Evie, could cure her HIV with curse of his affliction.

This classic noir story with zombies, vampires, pornography, evil corporate moguls, clan warfare, and a hard-ass, flawed, moralistic rogue vampire proves to be a fast-paced, engaging read that I very much enjoyed. I eagerly anticipate the further adventures of Joe Pitt in No Dominion (US, UK, Canada), Half the Blood of Brooklyn (US, UK, Canada), and forthcoming Every Last Drop (US, UK, Canada). 8/10

2 comments:

John D. said...

Loved these books. The 3rd one is the best yet.

Lawrence said...

Glad you enjoyed it, Neth. I think the second one is actually an improvement over the first (and the third let me down a bit), but see for yourself.

Be sure to check out the "review comments" threads on FBS after you've finished it, some interesting thoughts on the books there that might want to add to.

Good luck with Toll.

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