Review: “Bloodlist” By P. N. Elrod (Novel)

Well, it has been far too long since I last read a vampire novel. And, after a bit of searching online, I happened to notice the cover of a rather cool-looking vampire-themed “film noir”-style novel by P. N. Elrod . However, it was the seventh in a series.

So, after some thought, I decided to start at the beginning of the series and – to my delight – a second-hand omnibus of the first three P.N.Elrod’s “Vampire Files” stories was also going fairly cheap. So, I thought that I’d take a look at the first novel in the series, “Bloodlist” (1990).

So, let’s take a look at “Bloodlist”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2003 Ace Books (US) paperback omnibus that contained the copy of “Bloodlist” (1990) that I read.

The novel begins in Chicago, in the summer of 1936. Former reporter Jack Fleming is having a bad night. After waking up near a lake with no memory of the past few days, he suddenly finds that he’s being chased by a car. After taking a glancing blow from the car, the driver gets out and shoots him in the back. However, to Jack’s surprise, the gunshot doesn’t really hurt and isn’t even vaguely fatal.

After giving the gunman the scare of his life, Jack takes his car and decides to look into why he can’t remember the past few days. And, more importantly, why he’s still alive too. But, after feeling a hunger for blood, the answer to that question seems pretty obvious…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is amazing 🙂 Not only is it a really cool vampire novel, but it’s also a fairly gripping “film noir”-style thriller novel too, with a decent helping of comedy, quirkiness, atmosphere and personality too 🙂 And it’s from the 1990s too 🙂 Seriously, it is awesome 🙂

Interestingly though, although this novel is sort of a detective novel, it’s actually more of a streamlined thriller than many of the classic hardboiled novels it takes inspiration from. It’s kind of like a mixture between a less gritty/ less old-fashioned version of Mickey Spillane’s “I, The Jury” with a few hints of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Sherlock Holmes” stories. In other words, if you’re expecting the kind of messy, puzzling, complex plot that you’d find in hardboiled classics like Dashiell Hammett’s “The Maltese Falcon” or Raymond Chandler’s “The High Window“, then you’re going to be disappointed.

Still, this streamlined plot works really well – since it makes the story a lot more gripping and readable (and a bit “cinematic” too). Interestingly though, although the novel certainly has a rather cool “film noir” atmosphere to it, it also contains traces of something a bit older and more quirkier.

This is mostly thanks to the inclusion of a British actor, private detective and master of disguse called Escott, who helps to lend the story a little bit more of an eccentric Victorian-style “Sherlock Holmes” atmosphere 🙂 Plus, although this novel wears it’s influences on it’s sleeve (with references to things like Black Mask and old Dracula movies), it is very much it’s own unique thing 🙂

Although this is more of a horror-themed novel than an actual horror novel, the novel’s depiction of vampirism is fairly interesting. In addition to the usual thing about vampires being allergic to sunlight, this novel does some rather interesting things – such as giving Jack the ability to turn invisible and walk through walls. This allows for some truly brilliant (and occasionally hilarious) set pieces, but also has a few clever limitations which help the story to remain suspenseful too. Jack is also able to remain a fairly sympathetic character since he mostly drinks animal blood and, on the one occasion he bites another person, doesn’t kill them.

In terms of the characters, this novel is pretty good. Although many of the characters are fairly stylised “film noir” characters (eg: the evil gangster, the nightclub singer with a heart of gold, the hardboiled detective etc..) they all have a lot of personality. Likewise, the story includes a few characters you probably wouldn’t find in traditional 1930s-50s hardboiled stories too, which helps keep things interesting too.

Interestingly, whilst Jack is still very much a hardboiled detective, he’s probably slightly more of a likeable and friendly character than the classic hardboiled detectives of the 1930s-50s (eg: Mike Hammer, Phillip Marlowe and Sam Spade). Likewise, he contains just the right amount of moral ambiguity to make him an interesting character, whilst also ensuring that he doesn’t become too unsympathetic either.

The best character-based part of this novel is probably the friendship between Jack and Escott, which is the source of lots of dramatic moments, amusing lines of dialogue and other such things. Seriously, although the characters in this novel are a little bit stylised, this is part of the fun of this novel.

In terms of the writing, Elrod’s first-person narration is really good 🙂 It is matter-of-fact enough to make the story moderately fast-paced, whilst also still allowing the story to have a reasonably authentic “film noir”-style tone too. Likewise, the first-person narration also helps to give Jack a lot of extra characterisation too. Seriously, this novel is wonderfully readable.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is really great. The omnibus edition of “Bloodlist” I read was a gloriously efficient 159 pages long. But, even accounting for the smaller print and larger page size in the omnibus, this novel is still a wonderfully streamlined and efficient story. Likewise, the story’s pacing is fairly good too, with the story never really slowing down or losing momentum. Although you shouldn’t expect an ultra-fast paced thriller, this novel moves along at a reasonable pace.

As for how this twenty-nine year old novel has aged, it has aged really well. Seriously, this could pretty much be a modern novel. Whether it is the slightly more critical attitude towards the setting (similar to what you’d expect in a modern historical novel) or the fact that the novel’s writing style is also retro enough to be atmospheric whilst still being modern enough to still be easily readable today, this novel has aged really well.

All in all, this novel is really awesome 🙂 It’s a hardboiled “film noir” detective story about vampires that was written in the 1990s. You don’t get much better than this 🙂 It’s a streamlined, gripping novel that contains a really great blend of atmosphere, thrills and humour.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a five.

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Review: “The High Window” By Raymond Chandler (Novel)

Well, after reading Dashiell Hammett’s “The Maltese Falcon” a while ago, I was in the mood for some more “film noir” detective fiction. Since there isn’t a sequel to “The Maltese Falcon” and, because I’d already read Raymond Chandler’s “The Big Sleep” quite a few years ago, I decided to look for some of Raymond Chandler’s other novels.

Although they were relatively expensive individually, I was able to find a second-hand anthology of three of them (“The High Window”, “The Lady In The Lake” and “The Little Sister”) reasonably cheaply. I dont know how many of these novels I’ll eventually end up reviewing but, I thought that I’d take a look at Chandler’s 1943 novel “The High Window” – mostly because it was the first novel in the anthology.

So, let’s take a look at “The High Window”. Needless to say, this review may contain some mild SPOILERS.

This is the 2001 Penguin Classics (UK) paperback anthology that I read.

The story begins in Hollywood, with wisecracking private investigator Phillip Marlowe being hired by an elderly widow called Mrs. Murdock who believes that her no good daughter-in-law has stolen a rare golden doubloon from the family collection.

Needless to say, it is up to Marlowe to track down the missing coin. But, of course, it isn’t long before he finds himself in the middle of a twisted web of murder, intrigue and criminal conspiracy…..

One of the first things that I will say about “The High Window” is that it a lot more gripping than I’d expected. It’s also efficient too 🙂 In just 189 pages (in the edition I read), it manages to tell a compelling atmospheric story that is filled with psychological complexity, a cast of morally-ambiguous characters, a couple of dramatic plot twists and enough red herrings to sink a ship. Most modern writers would struggle to tell a story like this in less than 300-400 pages!

And, like with what I can remember of “The Big Sleep”, the plot of this novel is complicated. But, thanks to the novel’s concise length, it never really gets too confusing since you can easily binge-read this book in 1-2 sessions. Still, it might be worth taking notes whilst reading it. The novel’s complex plot works surprisingly well though, since it not only helps to add a bit of “realism” to the story, but it also rewards readers who can spot the clues and implications in various scenes.

Seriously, if there’s one great thing about this novel, it is that it tells a thrillingly readable story that also respects the reader’s intelligence too. It could be because of the time that the novel was written, but a lot of the novel’s most creepy or intriguing elements are sometimes implied rather than directly shown. And, yes, this novel contains more horror than I had expected. Whether it’s the grisly crime scenes, brutal moments of violence, some of the novel’s characters or just the novel’s general focus on the darker side of the human psyche, this is more of a horror novel than I’d expected 🙂

Likewise, the characters in this novel are mostly good. Although you shouldn’t expect ultra-deep characterisation, Chandler is able to create compellingly realistic, creepy and/or dubious characters with relatively little in the way of descriptions. Yes, the characters can occasionally stray into stereotypes (eg: the cringe-worthy phonetic dialogue used when an Italian character talks etc..), but many of the non-stereotypical characters are quite well-written.

Plus, for a novel of this length, there are a lot of characters too – yet, this never really becomes too confusing. This is because the novel devotes a larger amount of characterisation to several important characters (Marlowe, Mrs. Murdock, Merle etc..). In addition to this, several of the background characters also have very distinctive and memorable names too (eg: Breeze, Morningstar, Hench etc..).

The first-person narration in this novel is also surprisingly readable too. For the most part, it’s the kind of “matter of fact” narration that flows reasonably well. Yes, it’s a little bit more descriptive than modern narration often is, but this never gets in the way of the story (if anything, it adds atmosphere). Likewise, the novel is also filled with amusingly sarcastic observations and dialogue exchanges that help to balance out some of the grim horror of the story too.

As for how well this 76 year old novel has aged, it’s something of a mixed bag. On the one hand, the narration still flows well, the plot is still intriguingly complex, a fair amount of the sarcastic humour is still funny and most of the horror is still creepy. But, on the other hand, this novel is very much a product of it’s time and it contains quite a few “politically incorrect” moments. So, yes, this novel hasn’t entirely aged well. But, the parts that have aged well are really great.

All in all, even though I still prefer Dashiell Hammett’s “The Maltese Falcon”, Raymond Chandler’s “The High Window” is a fairly good film noir detective novel. Not only is the narration still very readable, but it packs an amazing amount of complexity into just 189 pages too 🙂 Yes, some parts of this book really haven’t aged well and the plot might be a bit confusing if you don’t binge-read and/or take notes. But, despite these flaws, it is a reasonably good novel.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get about a a four.

Today’s Art (10th January 2019)

Well, due to being in a rush, today’s digitally-edited painting ended up being a quick “film noir” painting (probably inspired by the fact that I’d just finished reading Dashiell Hammett’s “The Maltese Falcon” a while earlier – expect a review of it tomorrow 🙂).

As usual, this painting is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

“Skulduggery” By C. A. Brown