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.
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.