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

Well, for the next novel in this month’s horror marathon, I thought that I’d bend the rules slightly. This is mostly because I needed a slight break from “traditional” horror fiction, but still wanted to read something horror-related.

So, I thought that this was the time to finally read the second hardboiled vampire detective/crime thriller novel (a novel from 1990 called “Lifeblood”) in the second-hand P.N.Elrod omnibus that I bought several months ago.

However, I should point out that “Lifeblood” is a sequel to Elrod’s “Bloodlist” and the novel pretty much assumes that you already know the main characters, backstory etc… Whilst it’s probably theoretically possible to read this novel as a stand-alone story, it’ll make more sense and you’ll get a lot more out of it if you read “Bloodlist” first.

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

This is the 2003 Ace (US) paperback omnibus that contained the reprint of “Lifeblood” (1990) that I read.

The novel begins in mid-1930s Chicago with world-weary ex-reporter, and vampire, Jack Fleming ordering a drink in a dive bar. Of course, he overhears a mysterious conversation between several other patrons. It isn’t long before things start going wrong and he finds himself in the middle of one of his friend Escott’s cases. A case which would have gone to plan if Escott’s client hadn’t marked the bills Escott was supposed to hand over to the criminals.

After narrowly escaping with their lives and recovering their client’s stolen property, Escott is absolutely furious and decides to play a cruel practical joke on the client to teach him a lesson. Soon after this, things return to normal. Jack spends some time with his lover Bobbi and Escott continues renovating his house.

But, things don’t stay that way for long. Not only does Jack notice a mysterious car following him, but someone also contacts him about his long-lost ex-lover (and the vampire that turned him) Maureen….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that, whilst it takes a little while for the main story to really get started, it’s a really compelling “film noir” vampire novel 🙂 If you like stories by Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Mickey Spillane etc… but wish they contained a little bit of vampirism, then you’re in luck 🙂

In terms of this novel’s horror elements, there aren’t that many. Some of the later parts of the story include some moments of gory horror, sadistic horror, suspenseful horror and character-based horror, but not that much more than you’d expect from a gritty 1920s-50s style hardboiled detective novel. Even so, vampirism is a central element of the plot and, in addition to a few intriguing plot points, there are also a couple of cool references to “Varney The Vampire” and even a brief H.P.Lovecraft reference too 🙂

Like in “Bloodlist”, Jack’s vampiric state gives him a few extra powers (eg: fast healing, walking through walls etc..) but these are also offset by a number of limitations (eg: wooden weapons are especially harmful, he can’t cross running water, he can’t walk in daylight, he has to sleep near earth from his home) which help to keep many parts of the story suitably suspenseful 🙂

Still, as a hardboiled crime thriller, this novel works fairly well. Whilst you shouldn’t expect an ultra-complicated “I need to take notes!” Raymond Chandler-style plot, the slightly more streamlined plot works really well and there are enough sources of suspense to keep the story interesting. However, this novel is probably slightly more of a thriller novel than a detective novel. Even so, there’s enough chases, armed men suddenly bursting into rooms and mystery to keep things compelling.

Plus, I absolutely love the atmosphere in this novel 🙂 One of the cool things about P.N.Elrod’s vampire detective novels is how they are able to tread a fine line between the wondeful “film noir”-style atmosphere of 1930s Chicago, whilst also including some really cool Sherlock Holmes-style stuff too. Whilst you shouldn’t expect complex deductions, Jack’s sidekick Escott is a vaguely Holmes-like character (eg: a master of disguise with a keen mind, an impish sense of humour, a pipe and a slightly posh turn of phrase) and he really adds a lot to this series 🙂

In terms of the characters, they’re fairly good. I’ve already mentioned how much Escott adds to the story, especially when contrasted with Jack (who is a slightly more typical hardboiled protagonist, albeit a vampire). But, although many of the characters get the kind of vivid and briefly-sketched characterisation you’d expect from a hardboiled detective novel, the novel’s villains are especially dramatic. I don’t want to spoil too much, but they’re certainly good antagonists for Jack.

In terms of the writing, it’s really good 🙂 As you would expect, the novel’s first-person narration is written in the kind of “matter of fact” but descriptive style that you’d expect from a 1930s-style hardboiled crime novel 🙂 Seriously, the writing style really helps to add a lot of atmosphere to this novel.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is interesting. At an efficient 151 pages in the omnibus edition I read (with slightly larger pages), this novel never feels too long 🙂 Likewise, whilst the beginning is brilliantly disorientating (by dropping the reader into the middle of a case and only explaining everything afterwards), the novel does slow down a bit for some of the middle parts. Even so, the pace gradually builds again and the last third of this novel is a lot more gripping than you might expect 🙂

As for how this twenty-nine year old novel has aged, it has aged really well 🙂 Thanks to the historical setting and the hardboiled writing, this novel almost feels like it could have been written any time in the past ninety years. Plus, one advantage of it being a relatively modern novel in this genre is that there aren’t really any of the “dated in a bad way” elements you can sometimes find in actual vintage hardboiled novels.

All in all, this is a really compelling hardboiled vampire novel 🙂 The atmosphere is absolutely wonderful, the main characters are really interesting and, although the beginning and ending are more gripping than the middle, it’s still a really compelling story 🙂

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

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.