Werewolf Smackdown, Mario Acevedo, Eos, ISBN 978-0-06156720-9, $7.99, 354 pgs.

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Felix Gomez is sent to Charleston, South Carolina to intervene in what could become an incredibly bloody war between two rival factions. But this is intervention with a difference. Gomez is a vampire, the group that’s sending him is the ultra secret Araneum, a cabal of master vampires dedicated to keeping the existence of supernaturals secret from human society, and the warring factions are werewolves.

Oh yeah, and Gomez is being stalked by not one but two beings from his past: a vampire who wants him dead and another vampire, an ex girlfriend, who may not want to kill him but doesn’t necessarily want him to be around any longer than necessary. All Gomez wants to do is get in and get out and settle things as quietly as possible. That’s not going to be easy, what with the way rival werewolves feel about each other and that pesky vampire who keeps trying to kill him, along with any number of additional problems that crop up and which seem to be all part of Gomez’s karma. He’ll stick with it though, for what choice does he have? Fail the Araneum and they’re just as likely to take you apart and use your skin to send messages (write the message on the skin in blood, seal it in a light-proof tube and be assured that once read and exposed to sunlight all traces are gone.

This is the fifth book in Acevedo’s series featuring Felix Gomez, vampire PI. Acevedo has done a great job with taking the vampire mythos that we all are familiar with and updating it, technologically speaking. This universe features all of the supernaturals we have come to know and love as well as a fair amount of acerbic wit and cynical insight. Gomez, as a main character is no pushover and yet has a heart, even if it doesn’t beat. Gomez is also one of the few Latino lead characters in SF and fantasy at this time which makes him extremely unusual as well.

I’ve really enjoyed all of the books in the series and think Acevedo does an excellent job with plotting and pacing. I also really like that he’s not tried to re-invent the whole vampire history just re-explain it in modern terms. All of the books in the series are fun to read, with Acevedo’s quick pacing presented through mostly short chapters and a lack of expository rambling. Of all the supernatural series out there today, and there are a lot of them, I would have to say that Acevedo’s Felix Gomez series is at the top. A sure-fire recommendation.

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Audrey’s Door, Sarah Langan, Harper, ISBN 978-0-06-162421-6, $7.99, 412 pgs.

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This is Sarah Langan’s third book and it continues the themes found in the first two–self-destruction brought on by supernatural forces. This time the setting is New York City Where Architect Audrey Lucas manages to sign a lease for the Breviary, an affordable but oddly proportioned apartment building on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. The building is an example of 1880’s Chaotic Naturalist architecture and is the last of its kind since all others were condemned shortly after being built. Seems the Chaotic style is a bit unstable. The Breviary was the home to the wealthy children of robber barons and contains more than an echo from that time, either in decaying residents or the odd sounds that waft through the building. Lucas is determined to make it work however, ignoring the creaks and groans and bad feelings she has in order to make a new start. She also starts making a door in her living room. A door that leads to the past, or maybe just to death, or perhaps, worse of all, to her own past.

This is a creepy book, but then I’m not sure that Langan can write anything but. I did find it to be a bit too long in the middle, which definitely detracted from the sense of foreboding which had been building. But this is a minor quibble. As with many horror stories perhaps the greatest threat the writer faces is dealing with the question, from the reader or watcher, about why the protagonist stays in what everyone can see is a deteriorating situation. Langan addresses this by utilizing interior dysfunction and internalized self-destructive behaviors. It works in this situation very well.

I liked this book, as I liked Langan’s previous two books, and certainly look forward to the next book she produces. There is something about pairing the internal fears an individual has with real supernatural threats that works really well as a device to ratchet up the scare factor. Definitely recommended and a book you will want to read only in the day time.

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Audrey’s Door
 

Kill the Dead, Richard Kadrey, Eos, ISBN 978-006-171431-3, 434 pgs., $22.99

 

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This is the second book in Kadrey’s Sandman Slim series. Stark is back and trying to put the pieces together after escaping from hell, exacting a certain amount of bloody revenge, and saving the world in the process. He still has the animated head of a former peer living with him–part of that bloody revenge, and he’s still living above a video rental store in a sleazy section of Los Angeles. This time though Stark is offered a job being a body-guard for Satan, if offered is what you would call the demands of the Devil, and is trying to figure out how best to return to Hell and finish up on the revenge he started. Before he can get there though he meets a Czech pron star who turns out to be a zombie hunter, gets involved in trying to figure our why so many people attached to the families related to the supernatural side of LA are turning up dead, and where the sudden surge of zombies might be coming from. He gets help from many of the characters in the first book and from a few new ones as well. It seems the world, or at least LA, once more hangs in the balance and Stark is the only one who can stop it.

Kadrey writes with a raw energy that translates well to a protagonist from hell with an attitude to match. The action is violent and often messy and the language is strong and straight. Stark is an interesting anti-hero, struggling with a past that includes a lot of torture and serious personal loss. Kadrey adds emotional layers to Stark so that the character is both intriguing in terms of internal conflict and interesting in terms of attitude. There is a lot of dark humor here as well which helps to take the edge off what amounts to a lot of killing and dismemberment.

I really liked the first book in this series and so I had really high hopes for this book. I have to admit to be slightly disappointed, more so with the beginning of the novel which seemed to rehash old material in a way that was not as good as the original. Or perhaps it was just that Kadrey set the bar so high with the first book that there was no way he was going to match it with this one. As I read deeper I did find myself enjoying it more but it still seemed flat in places. I would still certainly recommend the book and if you have not read the first book, Sandman Slim, then you should definitely go out and get that one first. It’s hard to know whether this book reflects a mid-series slump, which often happens with the sequel novel, or a case where all the good stuff occurred in the first book and there’s no where else to go but down. I’m hoping for slump and will definitely read the next book in the series.

Brains: a Zombie Memoir, Robin Becker, Eos, ISBN 978-0-06197405-2, 183 pgs., $13.99.

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Zombies seem to be the new vampires.  I mean that it seems like these shambling undead have taken the spotlight in the supernatural fiction genre away from the bloodsuckers.  Whether or not it will last remains to be seen.  Zombies seem, to me at least, a hard sell character wise.  But maybe Robin Becker has found a solution.  Her idea is that in any typical Zombie outbreak there are bound to be at least a few zombies who retain an ability to think.  Her choice for the book is one Jack Barnes, college professor.  So, not only do we get a zombie that retains some ability to think (this is assuming you believe academics retain that ability to begin with) as well as some ability to analyze and adapt to the change.  So, we have Jack Barnes, who is now zombie Barnes, trying to do three things: survive, find other zombie thinkers, and get to the guy who created all the zombie havoc in the first place, Howard Stein.  The problem is that Stein is in an entirely different part of the country than Barnes and, what with his deteriorating body, a cross-country trip is going to be problematic.  And that’s the basic idea of the book–following zombie Barnes as he tries to make his way to Howard Stein, the zombie God.

The basic problem with zombies is that they are dead things.  This means they decay.  And, depending on what sort of climate you are in, this decay can be rather rapid.  The more important point is that they don’t breath and you need breath to make sounds or to talk.  Becker gets around at least one of these issues by positing that there will be special zombies who retain some human skills. So, there is a nurse who remembers how to stitch (which comes in real handy when things start falling off) and a zombie who can run and another who retains a fast reaction time, and they all end up with Barnes, heading toward Chicago.

This book is all about balance.  Balance between the inherent problems of zombies and story; balance between the stuffiness of the main character and the need to have an intelligent main character who can also chronicle events; balance between a need for a quest and a need to trivialize alternatives to a cross-country trip.  For the most part the uniqueness of the idea keeps discrepancies to the side. I mean this may be the first zombie novel told from the perspective of the zombies.

Ultimately, though, this may simply be a one-off.  Zombies just aren’t very sympathetic as characters.  They eat babies, they chew through peoples faces, they fall apart at the most inopportune time, and they tend to be single-minded about who’s got the brains.  I liked that book overall. It’s short which works to its advantage, it’s fairly fast paced, and it’s novel as a novel.  Kudos to Becker for coming up with the idea and managing to actually put it into print.

The Fall, Guillermo Del Toro & Chuck Hogan, William Morrow, ISBN 978-006-155822-1, 320 pgs, $26.99

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The Fall is book two of Del Toro’s and Hogan’s updating of Dracula. Set in New York City the story unfolds as a jet lands at JFK then goes silent. A CDC response team finds the plane full of dead people but has no answers. Soon afterwards the dead begin to rise and seek blood. Eph Goodweather is at the head of the CDC team that investigates the plane but his insistence that a vampire virus (from vampires) is spreading across the city and elsewhere only gets him in trouble. Soon Eph, along with his assistant, is forced to run and hide if they want to try to fight the virus. It may already be too late as the master vampire behind the entire crisis has his own agenda and it involves breaking the ages old pact of vampires keeping a low profile in order to survive.  As the virus continues to spread Eph begins to connect with others who are aware of the truth. There’s Holocaust survivor Abraham Setrakian and exterminator Vasiliy Fet and a bunch of gang bangers who have become true believers. Armed with technology mixed with old word myth they begin to take the fight to the only place they can: the master vampire himself.

Del Toro and Hogan have created a very interesting series. It is inventive yet follows the original Dracula story without insulting it. The moody atmosphere of a New York City under siege is riveting and captivating. The nature of the situation and the reactions of those who become trapped inside it is both intriguing and horrifying. Since the book does not come out until the first week in October you have plenty of time to run out and pick up a copy of the first book in the series: The Strain, which I also reviewed.

Del Toro and Hogan manage this series by doing what every big disaster series needs to do; manage the small, character driven stories within the larger context of the broad disaster. So, it is not enough that Eph is on the first response team and soon struggling to fight the virus on his own but his ex-wife becomes infected and his son becomes a target. Likewise all of the other characters have both personal and global reasons to be involved in this fight. This keeps us involved and interested.  The master vampire is the other piece that they have done extremely well.  This guy is no pushover.  He acts like he’s been around for a while and his plan has few holes in it.  He’s a bad guy with a lot of power and he acts that way.

Del Toro and Hogan have created a very entertaining read. Unless you happen to live in NYC then you might find it all too creepy, like reading a ghost story and then hearing noises in the closet. This is a fun series, an entertaining read, and highly recommended.

Night of Demons, Tony Richardson, EOS, ISBN 978-0-06-147467-5, $7.99, 390 pgs.

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This is the second book in what will likely become known as the Raine’s Landing series. The town of Raine’s Landing is a peculiar place just a couple of hours outside of Boston and set deep in the woods of New England. Created by witches from Salem, the town is protected from outsiders by some heavy-duty spells that generally keep people out and quickly convince those who manage to get in that they don’t want to stay. This continues to keep secret the fact that many of the town’s members continue to practice witchcraft. Ross Devries has lived in Raine’s Landing his entire life. Pretty much everyone in town has. He’s an ex-cop who lost his wife and child and who sometimes still manages to get involved in police work because he has a nose for supernatural trouble, even though he doesn’t have any supernatural ability.  His partner is Harley riding Cassandra Mallory, who has suffered similar losses and never goes anywhere without her arsenal. This time they will have their hands full as a serial killer, Cornelius Hanlon, also known as the Shadow Man, manages to get into town and almost immediately hook up with some nasty sorcery, which only makes him more powerful and more dangerous.  When Cornelius begins to wield his new power people begin to die with regularity and it soon becomes a question of who is controlling who; Cornelius or the thing he has become a part of.  And then, Lieutenant Detective Lauren Brennan from Boston arrives, which only makes things even more complicated.

Tony Richards has created an interesting environment for his characters to inhabit.  The closed community of Raine’s Landing, inhabited by witches and warlocks as well as the normal people who are born there, is basically a place where anything can happen.  And yet there are fairly rigid rules, as one would expect from any insular and secret society.  So, to have this community invaded by not only a psychopath serial killer but the singularly minded cop who has been hunting him, is problematic in any number of different ways and Richards takes full advantage of these complications as well as the more human complications internal to his characters brought about by loss, desire, loneliness, self-pity and need.  There’s also plenty of corruption, family secret keeping, insanity, and more than a few twists to make things even more interesting.

I found Night of Demons to be an interesting read.  Richards’ style is engaging and he’s managed to create a very interesting universe.  He’s also not playing all of his cards in the first couple of books so there seems to be plenty more stories to be told here.  While the events portrayed are certainly fantastic in nature, Richards tempers them by utilizing ‘normal’ characters as his main story telling vehicles.  It would certainly have been easy to make the protagonist one of the magic users but this way Richards is able to use his main characters as counterpoint to the action, establishing a base of normality against which the fantastic community can be measured.  This is certainly a well thought out device and it works well in this situation.  I liked Night of Demons, found the book to be fast paced and enjoyable, and I look forward to seeing more from Tony Richards.

The Strain, Guillermo Del Torro & Chuck Hogan, Harper Fiction, 978-006155824-5, 585 pgs

Guillermo del Toro - Signing

The Strain is not so much a retelling of Dracula as it is a modernization. The names have been changed but the situation remains the same. A Boeing 777 jet suddenly stops dead on the runway at JFK airport. When the authorities arrive they find a plane full of dead people. Dr. Eph Goodweather, head of a CDC rapid response team charged with investigating biological threats , boards the plane and can only conclude that some new pathogen has has caused this. When the dead start to reanimate it occurs to Goodweather that perhaps he has more on his hands than just another virus. His warnings go unheeded and New York City is thrown into quarantine as the newly dead quickly seek out those they loved to infect them as well. Soon the city is in chaos and no one seems to want to believe what is happening. Nothing in the crisis manual works and when Goodweather meets an old man, a holocaust survivor who tells him this is nothing less than an invasion of vampires, things really start to get interesting. It quickly comes down to Goodweather, his assistant, his son, the old man and a few others to figure out what to do and whom to do it to before the tipping point is reached and humanity becomes no more.

If you think you already know this story because or your familiarity with the Dracula legend then you will want to think again.  Guillermo, who is best known as a film director, and Hogan, have taken all the old tropes and brought them up to date in a very thrilling fashion.  While they stick fairly closely to the original plot, the changes in setting and shifts in character really make this a brand new story, or at least make the story available to new audiences.  This is the first book in a trilogy so you will have to be prepared to wait for the conclusion, although the second book is out now and the third is in the pipeline so the wait should not be overly long.

I found myself enjoying this book, after first thinking that there was no way they could redo such a classic with any success.  But, the pacing is very well done, the updating is logical and well crafted and the story is both creepy and fascinating at the same time.  The second book, The Fall, is due out in October of 2010 in hardcover with the third installment, The Night Eternal, coming out in 2011.  If you like a good horror/thriller than I would definitely recommend this series.  The characters are charming, the writing is very good and the story is classic.