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.

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Review: “Falling Apart” By Jane Lovering (Novel)

Well, after I read Jane Lovering’s “Vampire State Of Mind” about three months ago (after a family member thought that I’d like the series and gave me both novels), I’ve been meaning to read the sequel. But, of course, I got distracted by other books. So, three months later, I decided to finally take a look at “Falling Apart” (2014).

Although this novel can possibly be read as a stand-alone book (since it contains some recaps), the story will have much more of an impact if you’ve already got to know the characters before reading it.

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

This is the 2014 Choc Lit (UK) paperback edition of “Falling Apart” that I read.

Jess Grant works for York Council as a liason officer between the human population and the city’s “otherworlders” (eg: vampires, werewolves etc..). After the events of the previous book, she is in a relationship with one of the leading local vampires called Sil. However, Jess is worried. Not only hasn’t she heard from Sil for several days, but even his nominal second-in-command, Zan, doesn’t know where he has gone…

Meanwhile, Sil is in London. He is visiting some kind of official records office when someone walks into the building and shoots him. He falls unconscious whilst his body heals and, when he wakes up, he is trapped in some kind of small underground tomb.

Back in York, things are going from bad to worse for Jess. Not only is there still no word from Sil, but her father has been taken to hospital and the tabloid press have started hounding her over abandoning a case to visit him. On the streets, right-wing hooligans are also harassing the city’s zombie population.

But, even worse than this, an online newsfeed arrives at Jess’ office showing Sil going on a blood-spattered feeding frenzy through the streets of London. Under the terms of the treaty between humanity and the otherworlders, Sil must be hunted down and killed….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is a bit more of a streamlined and compelling thriller than “Vampire State Of Mind” was. The romance is more passionate, the story is more suspenseful and there is also more backstory too 🙂 In other words, this novel is a really good sequel 🙂

I should probably start by talking about the novel’s thriller elements. Although there are a few fight scenes, this is much more of a suspense thriller/detective thriller novel with some hints of the spy genre too. Not only is Sil in constant danger throughout the novel, but Jess has to both keep him hidden and find a way to clear his name too. So, there’s a lot of sneaking around, secret research and other suspenseful stuff like this 🙂

The novel also has an interesting sub-plot about Jess helping out the city’s zombies, who are targeted by right-wing extremists and who work dangerous jobs for little to no pay. This sub-plot links in well with the main plot and helps to add a bit of extra drama to the story. The novel’s depiction of zombies is fairly interesting too since, amongst other things, they have to keep their disintegrating bodies together with the use of copious amounts of glue.

Like in “Vampire State Of Mind”, this novel also contains a fair amount of humour too. Although this is slightly more understated than in the previous novel, there is a fair amount of irreverent humour, sarcastic dialogue, amusing descriptions etc… If you like the humour in Jodi Taylor’s “Chronicles Of St. Mary’s” novels, then you’ll probably enjoy the humour here 🙂

The novel’s romance elements are really brilliant too. Since Sil and Jess are already in a relationship at the start of the novel, their romance feels a bit more intense and suspenseful. This is also emphasised by things like Jess’ uncertainties about Sil, the danger that both characters are in, the scenes where the two characters miss each other and – since Sil is wanted criminal- the passionate scenes of forbidden love too. Seriously, I haven’t seen vampire romance as good as this since I read Jocyelnn Drake’s “Dark Days” series.

In terms of the characters, they are really well-written. This is one of those novels that works really well because of the characters. In addition to learning a bit more about Jess’ past, Zan gets a lot more characterisation in this novel – since Jess is uncertain whether or not she can trust him (given that he is a “lawful good” character who seems eager to report Sil). Likewise, all of the main characters get a fair amount of character development too. Seriously, the characters in this novel are really good.

In terms of the writing, it is fairly good. Although this novel does do the annoying thing of switching between first and third-person narration at times, the narrative voice is the readable, informal, amusing and emotional narration that you’d expect 🙂 As I mentioned in my review of “Vampire State Of Mind”, the narration in this series reminds me a bit of a slightly understated version of the excellent narration in Jodi Taylor’s awesome “Chronicles Of St.Mary’s” series 🙂

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is really good 🙂 At an efficient 274 pages, the story never feels too long. Likewise, the story remains compelling and well-paced throughout. Plus, although the main storyline is resolved, there is also more than enough room for a really epic sequel (if it is ever written).

All in all, this is a fairly compelling and suspenseful vampire thriller novel and an excellent sequel to “Vampire State Of Mind” 🙂 The plot feels more focused, the romance seems more intense and both the characters and humour are as good as ever.

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

Review: “Sunglasses After Dark” By Nancy A. Collins (Novel)

Well, after I finished reading Whitley Strieber’s “The Hunger” a couple of weeks ago, I was in the mood for another 1980s vampire novel. After a bit of searching online, I ended up learning about a vampire novel from 1989 called “Sunglasses After Dark” by Nancy A. Collins.

Although I’d originally planned to get the hardback version (due to the cool cover art), I happened to find a second-hand omnibus of the first three novels in the series. Although I’m terrible when it comes to actually finishing omnibuses, the cover art had a wonderfully ’90s look to it that reminded me of the cover art for Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman” comics.

However, I should probably point out that I had something of a cold when I read this novel, which slowed me down a bit and put me in a bit of a miserable/cynical mood. So, it is probably worth bearing this in mind when reading this review.

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

This is the 1995 White Wolf (US) paperback omnibus which contained the version of “Sunglasses After Dark” that I read.

The novel begins in a mental hospital called Elysian Fields. An orderly called Claude is guarding the “danger ward”, which has been more chaotic than usual ever since a mysterious new patient arrived. A strange woman who gives the other patients nightmares and has even bitten the neck of another staff member.

From inside a padded cell, Sonja Blue waits for her body to process the sedatives that the doctors have given her. When her body regains its strength, she breaks out of the cell and goes off in search of revenge.

During Sonja’s escape, Claude has a mysterious vision of a woman called Denise Thorne. And, after Claude is fired from the hospital for letting Sonja escape, he decides to search for her…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that, despite some structural/pacing problems and a much darker emotional tone than I’d expected, this novel does have some rather cool moments. In essence, this is a short novel that would have been so much better as a novella or even an extended short story. Even so, it’s cool to see a “badass anti-hero” vampire novel from as early as the late 1980s.

In terms of the novel’s horror elements, they were a lot more extreme than I’d expected. Whilst this novel contains the usual gory horror, suspense and paranormal horror that you would expect from a vampire thriller, there’s also a disturbingly large amount of emphasis on psychological horror, taboo-based horror, sexual horror/violence and sadistic cruelty.

In essence, this novel is perhaps too disturbing for something that looks like a fun gothic vampire thriller at first glance. Seriously, there is a lot of very dark subject matter in this novel and it will catch you by surprise if you were expecting a vampire thriller in the style of Jocelynn Drake, Laurell K. Hamilton etc… Plus, even when compared to the classic splatterpunk authors of the 1980s, this book is still very much on the “edgy” side of things.

In terms of the novel’s paranormal elements and depiction of vampirism, it is fairly innovative. In addition to being partially or wholly possessed by demonic entities, the novel’s vampires can also feed off of negative emotions, they can walk in sunlight/eat garlic/touch crosses, everyone they bite can turn into a vampire, they can use psychic powers and – like zombies- can only be killed by destroying their brains. In fact, there’s an interesting cross-over with the zombie genre here, since if a vampire turns several days after it’s host dies, then it becomes a zombie-like creature.

Likewise, there are a few other paranormal characters in this novel too – including a surprisingly creepy ogre, various types of angels & demons and psychic humans. In addition to this, there is the usual “secret paranormal world” thing in this novel too. But, although this novel is probably slightly more of a horror novel than an urban fantasy novel, these fantastical elements help to add a bit more mystery and drama to the story.

In terms of the novel’s thriller elements, this novel can be a really good thriller when it wants to be. The story starts out with a really mysterious and gripping plot but, just when it is really starting to get gripping, the novel then suddenly devotes about sixty pages or so to flashbacks showing Sonja’s grim, harsh and depressing backstory.

Although this giant backstory segment contains some fast-paced moments and an interesting range of locations (eg: London, Paris, Japan, Hong Kong etc..), it distracts from the more compelling main plot. Not only that, there is next to no suspense in this segment, since you’ll already know who survives and who doesn’t thanks to the earlier parts of the novel. Still, the later parts of the novel become a lot more thrilling and fast-paced when the story picks up the main plot again.

In terms of the characters, there is a fairly interesting cast of main characters. However, as mentioned earlier, there is perhaps too much characterisation in this story (to the point where it distracts from the main plot). Although Sonja is a pretty dramatic “badass anti-hero” character who also struggles with the demonic creature attached to her soul, this novel’s approach to characterisation/backstory mostly consists of filling the protagonist and antagonist’s backstories with pretty much every depressing real world horror you can think of.

In terms of the writing, this novel’s narration is slightly more fast-paced and “matter of fact” than most other 1980s horror novels I’ve read. Even so, the novel uses a slightly annoying mixture of third and first-person narration (in addition to things like interview transcripts etc..). Although you’ll probably get used to this after a while and it does help to add a feeling of unreliable narration to the story, this novel would have been more readable with a fixed first or third-person perspective.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel isn’t as good as it initially seems. Although this novel is a reassuringly slender 185 pages long in the large omnibus that I read, it seems like the kind of story that would be better as a novella or a short story. As I’ve mentioned before, the giant backstory segment really distracts from what is otherwise a rather gripping and fast-paced thriller novel.

In terms of how this thirty-year old novel has aged, it has aged fairly well. Although there are a few uses of dated language, the novel almost reads like something that could have been written today. The only real clue that this is an older novel is the 1990s-style focus on being as “dark and edgy” as possible. Still, for a novel from the late 1980s, it is at least slightly ahead of it’s time.

All in all, whilst this novel has some cool moments, the story’s pacing would be so much better if it was a novella or a short story. Likewise, don’t go into this story expecting a fun vampire thriller. This is an extremely “dark and edgy” novel that will probably cause even experienced readers of horror fiction to recoil in revulsion at least a few times. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get three and three-quarters.

Review: “The Hunger” By Whitley Strieber (Novel)

Well, I was in the mood for another 1980s horror novel. So, I thought that it was finally time to read the copy of Whitley Strieber’s 1980 novel “The Hunger” that I found by accident whilst searching through one of my book piles for another novel several weeks earlier. If I remember rightly, this was a novel that I originally found in a charity shop in Aberystwyth sometime during late 2009/early 2010.

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

This is the 1985 Corgi (UK) paperback edition of “The Hunger” that I read.

The novel begins at 3am in Long Island, with a man called John Blaylock breaking into a house in order to murder a teenager called Kaye. He has planned the crime meticulously and he carries it out with ruthless efficiency. But, after the dastardly deed is done, he bites his victim’s neck and we learn that John is a vampire.

Not only that, he lives in a nice suburban house with a much older vampire called Miriam and her young human protege Alice. Although they have to keep their vampiric nature secret from both Alice and the world, Miriam and John live a relatively happy life together – filled with classical music, beautiful gardens and passionate romance.

However, after John returns from his latest killing, Miriam senses that something is wrong with him. Like all of the previous people she has turned into vampires, John has finally started to age at an accelerated rate. Soon, his vampiric hunger will overwhelm him and turn him into little more than a beast. Still, she has read about a scientist called Sarah Roberts who has been conducting promising research into treatments that could prevent ageing. So, Miriam decides to seek her out…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is a lot creepier than I expected. Yes, it has some flaws, but if you want a vampire story that will actually frighten you, then this one is worth reading.

Seriously, I cannot praise this novel’s horror elements highly enough 🙂 It contains a wonderfully disturbing mixture of psychological horror, character-based horror, medical/scientific horror, gory horror, body horror, tragic horror, sexual horror, paranormal horror, claustrophobic horror, suspenseful horror, cruel horror, slasher movie-style horror and criminal horror too.

This is the kind of novel that won’t shock you that often, but will instead leave you in a decidedly unsettled mood after you’ve read it (kind of a bit like playing “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines).

The main source of the novel’s horror is probably the exquisitely disturbing main character, Miriam. She’s an extremely evil character, but the novel shows us enough of her tragic backstory (through some really atmospheric historical flashback scenes) and profound feelings of loneliness to actually make the reader feel sorry for her – only to then recoil with disgust when they realise what a monster they have been sympathising with.

The novel’s portrayal of vampirism is fairly inventive too. In essence, vampires are initially presented as serial killers and, later, as some kind of “Mimic“-like predatory species. They quite literally suck the life out of people, leaving their victims little more than shrivelled husks. They can also sire new vampires, who end up turning into frenzied, decaying monsters after 200-1000 years. They can walk in daylight and aren’t affected by garlic or crosses. Their only weaknesses are that they involuntarily fall asleep for six hours a day (with vivid nightmares) and need to bite someone once a week.

As the title suggests, this is a novel about hunger. In addition to the vampires’ hunger for blood, this novel is also about hunger for companionship, for food, for pleasure etc.. In essence, it is a novel about how hedonism is an integral part of humanity. And, in the tradition of 1980s horror novels, this isn’t really a novel for the prudish either.

In terms of the characters, there’s a lot of characterisation in this novel. Good horror relies on characterisation and this novel doesn’t disappoint. Although some of the characters may seem a little bit stylised, stereotypical and/or cheesy, there’s often enough characterisation here to make you care about them. Likewise, as mentioned earlier, Miriam is one of the creepiest vampire characters I’ve seen in a while.

In terms of the writing, it is both brilliant and terrible at the same time. The novel’s third-person narration uses a rather descriptive, formal and/or melodramatic style which can seem incredibly corny at times but, when you get used to it, really helps to add a lot of atmosphere and depth to the story. Yes, this makes the story a bit slow-paced but, once you get used to the writing style, then it really helps to breathe life into the story.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is a bit strange. At 249 pages in length, it initially seemed like the kind of gloriously short novel that used to be standard in the good old days. However, thanks to the writing style, this novel is a lot more slow-paced than you might expect. Still, the fact that it uses a thriller-style structure and the fact that the level of suspense increases throughout the story means that the later parts of the novel were compelling enough to binge-read 🙂

In terms of how this thirty-nine year old novel has aged, it’s a bit complicated. The story itself is still compelling and the horror is, if anything, even more creepy than it probably was in the early 1980s. However, the writing style is a bit old-fashioned, there are some dated and/or stereotypical depictions of LGBT characters and the science/technology elements of the book will also seem fairly dated too.

All in all, even though this isn’t always a perfect novel, it is still an incredibly compelling, atmospheric and creepy vampire novel. Seriously, I’m genuinely shocked that a vampire novel can be this scary. If you want an inventive version of a familiar genre, then this book is well worth reading.

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

Review: “Vampire State Of Mind” By Jane Lovering (Novel)

Well, it has been quite a while since I last read an urban fantasy novel. And, after being given a copy of Jane Lovering’s 2012 novel “Vampire State Of Mind” by a family member who saw the mention of Hobnobs, parallel universes, vampires, Aberystwyth etc… in the first few pages and thought that I might enjoy it, I thought that I’d check it out.

So, let’s take a look at “Vampire State Of Mind”. Needless to say, this review may contain some mild-moderate SPOILERS.

This is the 2012 Choc Lit (UK) paperback edition of “Vampire State Of Mind” that I read.

The novel begins with a brief “Wikipedia article” that outlines the series’ backstory. In short, a gateway between Earth and a parallel universe (containing vampires, zombies, werewolves etc..) opened in Aberystwyth in 1910. This led to quite a few years of strife, which ended when a peace treaty was signed in 1988. These days, humans and otherworlders live in relative peace, with the treaty being enforced by authorities for both groups.

In the city of York, Jessica Grant works for an under-funded department of the local council as a liason between humanity and the otherworlders. She is one of 5% of the population who can sense otherworlders and, as such, her job is mostly to give presentations at local schools and respond to otherworld-related incidents. Which is why she ends up in the city centre at night trying to tranquilise a slightly pathetic vampire called Daim who has strayed outside of a designated vampire area.

However, after she tranquilises Daim, a demonic symbiote called Tez emerges from his chest and reveals that he led Daim to this part of the city so that he could deliver an urgent warning to Jessica. Unfortunately, the warning is a fairly cryptic one and Jessica is more puzzled than frightened by it. However, after a number of incidents, it quickly becomes clear that something is out to get Jessica…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it’s a fairly compelling urban fantasy thriller and, even though I prefer vampire novels with vampire protagonists, this novel is a fairly decent vampire novel too.

In addition to a fairly good narrative voice, this novel also contains a good mixture of thrills, comedy, drama, romance, mystery and supernatural fantasy too.

In terms of the novel’s fantasy elements, they’re quite well-developed. The story has enough mythos and backstory to make the events feel natural, whilst also avoiding bogging the reader down with reams of lore. Although there are a number of paranormal creatures in the novel (eg: ghouls, wights, zombies, werewolves etc..) and some scenes involving magic, the story mostly focuses on vampires.

In the novel, vampires are vampires because they live in a symbiotic relationships with demonic creatures who feed on their hormones, endorphins etc… They mostly drink synthetic blood (but prefer the real stuff), they aren’t harmed by sunlight and they are all stunningly handsome in a gothic kind of way. However, the life of a vampire also has certain psychological effects – which I won’t spoil, but they really help to add an extra level of drama to the story.

Whilst this novel doesn’t really contain that much in the way of horror, this is made up for by the inclusion of several thrillingly suspenseful scenes that have a really good balance between action and comedy. Likewise, the novel also contains a couple of dramatic plot twists and other such things that help to keep the story compelling too. Still, this novel is more of a thriller than a horror novel.

The novel’s romantic elements are really good too. Initially, these aren’t focused on too much and then they gradually build as the story progresses, which prevents them from feeling cheesy or contrived. There’s a good mixture of unrequited love, compelling drama and passion too. Likewise, since this is a vampire novel, there are also a few wonderfully sensual moments too 🙂

In terms of the characters, they’re really good. Jessica is a mostly likeable and fairly realistic protagonist, who has a fairly cynical sense of humour and is something of a reluctant hero (rather than the usual heavily-armed badasses found in the urban fantasy genre). The leaders of the city’s vampires, Sil and Zan, initially come across as rather stylised hedonistic ultra-handsome goth/geek characters, but gain a lot more depth as the story progresses. The novel’s main villain is also suitably dramatic and mysterious too. Plus, some of the background characters get a decent amount of characterisation too.

In terms of the writing, it’s also really good. Although the narration randomly switches between first and third-person perspective occasionally, this doesn’t get too confusing or annoying.

The first-person segments of the novel are written in a fairly informal way that not only helps to keep the story going at a reasonable pace, but also allows for a lot of characterisation and some humour too. The first-person narration is also a little bit like a more understated (and less eccentric/ punk) version of the excellent narration in Jodi Taylor’s “Chronicles Of St. Mary’s” series too 🙂

In terms of length and pacing, this story is really good. At an efficient 288 pages in length, the story never really feels too long. Likewise, there’s a good mixture of fast-paced and moderately-paced scenes too. Plus, the story’s mixture of multiple genres (eg: romance, comedy, thriller, urban fantasy etc..) also ensures that there’s always something to hold the reader’s attention too.

All in all, this is a good urban fantasy novel. It’s good mixture of a slightly light-hearted thriller, a drama, a mystery and a romance. Whilst it didn’t quite have the edge or level of gothic-ness as my favourite series of vampire novels (Jocelynn Drake’s awesome “Dark Days” series) does, it’s still a compelling and well-written vampire novel. Plus, it’s always cool to see an urban fantasy novel set in Britain for a change.

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

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.

Review: “Minion (Special Edition)” By L. A. Banks (Novel)

A while before writing this review, I was in the mood for some vampire fiction (what can I say? I’ve been looking for something as awesome as Jocelynn Drake’s “Dark Days” novels ever since I finished reading them). And, after looking online, I discovered an author I hadn’t heard of before called L. A. Banks. So, I decided to order a second-hand copy of the first novel in her “Vampire Huntress” series – a novel from 2003/4 called “Minion”.

However, I should probably point out that this novel seems to be the first part of a continuous series and it isn’t a self-contained novel. I was forewarned about this by a few reviews I saw, but don’t go into this novel expecting a full story. Likewise, the edition of “Minion” that I read is a “special edition” version, which apparently contains some extra scenes that aren’t in older editions of the novel.

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

This is the 2004 St. Martin’s Paperbacks (US) special edition paperback of “Minion” that I read.

The novel begins in New Orleans in the 1980s, when the wife of a preacher believes that her husband is having an affair with a mysterious handsome man that he’s met. Filled with jealousy, she ends up consulting a local magician for some kind of spell in order to exact revenge. However, this spell doesn’t exactly work as intended….

Flash forward to the mid-late 1990s and two people called Marlene and Shabazz are in a nightclub, searching for someone called Damali. When the band appears on stage, Marlene realises that the teenage lead singer is none other than Damali. After the concert, Marlene approaches Damali and offers to sign her to her record label – which is, of course, a cover for a group of vampire hunters. Since, although she doesn’t know it, Damali is the Neteru- some kind of mythical chosen one.

A few years later, in 2003, Damali is twenty and she is a well-trained member of the vampire hunting team. The team have travelled to Philadelphia to fight some vampires, but they find themselves in an alleyway where everything is mysteriously silent. Something is wrong. Of course, it doesn’t take long before the vampires attack. However, these vampires are different. They’re more powerful, more ferocious and are nothing like anything Damali has ever seen before….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that, during it’s best moments, it’s kind of like a cooler and more badass version of “Buffy The Vampire Slayer“. Yes, it isn’t a self-contained story and it certainly has a few flaws but, when this story is at it’s best, it’s kind of like watching a really cool late 1990s/early 2000s urban fantasy TV show 🙂 Plus, it’s one of the few novels about vampire hunters that I’ve read which still manage to include a lot of the edginess of a good vampire novel 🙂

Interestingly, this novel is more of a thriller/drama novel than a horror novel. Sure, there are a few moments of gruesome horror, a suspenseful atmosphere and some fairly cool moments of paranormal horror too. But, for the most part, this is more of an urban fantasy drama novel with a few sizzlingly sensual moments and some well-placed action scenes. Surprisingly, this works really well.

In addition to some detective/crime thriller elements, a lot of the story also focuses on the lives of the vampire hunters, their plans, their conflicts and Damali grappling with her fate as a Neteru (which is presented as something of a second adolescence).

Although this novel is one of those stories where the main characters argue with each other quite a bit, this actually works quite well thanks to the general atmosphere of the story and the way that the characters are written. In other words, the conflicts between the characters emerge from their different perspectives, personalities and worldviews rather than just being there for the sake of drama. Likewise, the Los Angeles setting of most of the story is reminiscent of “Buffy The Vampire Slayer”, whilst also allowing for a lot more atmosphere and grittiness too.

Even though the story could have done with more action scenes, this is compensated for via a reasonably compelling plot and a suspenseful atmosphere in many scenes. Likewise, many of the story’s more action-packed moments are pretty cool too – with the highlights including a fight involving a three-sided sword and a rather cool chase scene that not only includes some beautiful descriptions of Chinatown, but also includes some fairly suspenseful combat scenes too.

Plus, even though this story contains a clear “good vs. evil” conflict, it is thankfully a little bit more sophisticated than this. In other words, most of the “good” characters aren’t joyless, self-righteous bores and some of the story’s villains are a little bit more ambiguous too.

Even the novel’s most puritanical character, Marlene, is given enough characterisation for her more self-righteous moments to make sense in the context of the story. Best of all, Damali is actually a fairly realistic twentysomething main character who (unlike many thriller novel protagonists) actually wants to enjoy life – much to Marlene’s prim consternation.

Plus, one of the characters (Carlos) is initially presented as a villainous drug baron, but he gains a bit more depth (and even some reader sympathy) as the story progresses. In other words, this novel contains a bit more nuance and humanity than “good vs. evil” vampire stories focusing on vampire hunters usually do. This really helps to add atmosphere to the story too 🙂

Still, this isn’t to say that the story doesn’t have some hilariously cheesy elements too. Whether it’s a rival music label who are quite literally run by demons and vampires (and, in true 1980s/90s moral panic fashion, promote goth music and drug-fuelled rock music) or a scene involving an alliance between crime gangs, this story can be a little bit silly. Likewise, one scene involving a vampiric council who reside in the depths of hell is straight out of a cheesy horror movie. Still, these elements help to add some cheesy, light-hearted fun to the story and provide a bit of balance to the grittier and more serious aspects of the story.

But, although this story is reasonably atmospheric and fairly cool, it isn’t without flaws. Most of these happen near the beginning and ending of the novel, which are literally the last places where a writer should make mistakes.

After the prologues, the novel begins with what should be a suspenseful and gripping action scene – but it is bogged down by the fact that this scene introduces quite a few characters very quickly, which can get confusing. Likewise, the climactic moments of the story are basically a long-winded exposition-filled data dump about the series’ backstory. Yes, this segment does also serve as a cliffhanger ending, but it’s a fairly boring way to include one.

In terms of the writing, Banks’ third-person narration is somewhat on the informal side of things, whilst also being reasonably descriptive too (and fairly “matter of fact” during more thrilling moments). Although it took me a little while to get used to Banks’ writing style (probably because I read a slightly more formal novel directly beforehand), it works reasonably well – with the informal elements also helping to reinforce the story’s atmosphere too.

As for length and pacing, this novel is an efficient 286 pages in length – however, this isn’t a self-contained story (so, it’s more like the first part of a longer novel). Likewise, as mentioned earlier, chapter one overloads the reader with characters and the cliffhanger ending is far too slow-paced. However, the pacing throughout the rest of the story is reasonably good.

All in all, whilst this novel isn’t without flaws, it is still fairly interesting. When it is at it’s best, this novel is as fun as watching a really cool TV show. The middle parts of this novel are dramatic, atmospheric and compelling. Yes, both the beginning and the ending are a bit weak – and the story isn’t even vaguely self-contained. But, these flaws aside, this novel still has some really good moments.

If I had to give “Minion” a rating out of five, it would just about get a four (even though, in some parts, it’s a solid four and a half and in other parts is more of a three and a half).