Just when you think the entire genre of vampire lit has nothing new to say, along comes a book that slaps you across the face with a rusty nail-studded two-by-four. Don’t worry: with Already Dead, Charlie Huston isn’t going the erotic or chick-lit vampire route. Here’s a book with an original take on the vampire mythos that’s straight out of the hard-boiled noir tradition.
Joe Pitt lives on the edge of society in a Manhattan that’s divided among differing vampire factions, all fighting each other for supremacy. Pitt travels among them but isn’t of them – he does jobs for the factions and manages to stay on the right side of everyone just enough so that he doesn’t become a target. Pitt stumbles across a shambler, vampire slang for a zombie, a poor soul who’s been infected with a bacteria that eats the mind of its carrier, lasting only a few days before passing their nastiness on to others. And, you know, eating whatever brains are handy. Pitt is tasked to track down the source of the infection and destroy it before it brings attention on the vampires. He also quickly gets tangled up in Manhattan’s high society, searching for a runaway socialite who likes to slum it with those without the benefit of daddy’s credit cards. Throw in a mystic vampire cult and a shadowy creature that leaves no scent and you’ve got a powerful story that rockets the reader along in a blaze of cigarettes, caffeine, and whiskey.
Huston’s prone to violence – readers queasy at the thought of a vampire ripping limbs off a zombie and using the arm as a club would be advised to go elsewhere. But the story has surprising heart – there’s something in Pitt’s own backstory that makes him help those who need it, even though he has to drink the blood of others to survive. Plus, he tries to keep his secret away from his sort-of girlfriend, a HIV-positive bartender who loves the big lug even as she doesn’t question what he does most nights.
I picked the book up, not expecting much – I had read somewhere that a studio bought the movie rights, so I figures I’d give it a shot – but if Huston’ s other books are anything like this one (and he’s already got another book out featuring Pitt) I’m going to have a serious author-crush going on. Huston knows his way around detective fiction and is one hell of a good writer. I’m looking forward to reading his other books.