Charlie Huston. Del Rey. $12.95
288p. ISBN: 034547824X
Despite the fact that the world already has not only enough vampire novels but enough vampire detectives (Tanya Huff's Garreth Mikaelian, PN Elrod's Jack Fleming, Kim Newman's' Genevieve Dieuxdonne all come immediately and favorably to mind), Charlie Huston's Already Dead, the start of a pulp noir series centering on "vampyre" PI Joe Pitt, is not only a welcome addition to the canon, it is cause for you to sink to your knees and offer...whatever.
"Vampyrism" is the result of "the Vyrus" and the infected benefit from slowed aging, fast healing, and an enhanced metabolism that must be fed with human blood. (Just exactly what the Vyrus does and how it works, we discover, are a mysteries yet to be solved.) The fangless (ignore the cover image) blood drinkers can get by on a pint a week, although more blood means a stronger vampyre. The sun crispy-critters them. It's easier to hide foraging for the red stuff and the aversion to sunlight in a densely populated urban area than in suburbia (where a Van Helsing is sure to spot you sooner or later), so Huston's noir New York City -- its shadows are deeper and its streets are a little tougher than the "real" New York -- is integral to the story. Manhattan's 40000 vamps are organized into Clans. The rich influential Mafia-like Coalition used to control the entire island, but back in the sixties, black and Latino vamps broke off and established The Hood while social activist-types set up the Society. The Hood holds everything north of 110th, the Coalition has 14th Street north to 110th, and the Society controls the East Side from 14th to Houston. The Coalition wants to keep vampirism "in the closet", hidden from the public eye. The Society is a "ragtag band of East Village radical-socialist-anarchist-revolutionaries" and LGBT activists who feel vampires deserve "the same rights as any uninfected person". They want to go public with vampyrism in hopes the world will use its resources to finsd a cure for the Vyrus. There are other small Clans like the Harley-riding biker Dusters and the Chinatown Wall. Then there's the Enclave. They don't claim any turf, but the West Side from 14th South to Houston is a no man's (or vampyre's) land that contains their headquarters. Enclave are sort of "spiritual" vampires who believe the Vyrus is supernatural. They don't feed themselves (or, consequently, the Vyrus) believing that starving to death will lead to a nonphysical supernatural existence. Or something like that.
Pitt is an unallied Rogue who has survived as a vamp for thirty years. He has a history with the Society, but got out. Vampyres can't really make it on their own though, so he he plays "handyman" and sometime detective for both the Society and the Coalition. He lives on Society turf in the East Village where he tries to keep his neighborhood free from ghastly brain-eating zombies while, for the Coalition, he is trying to find the carriers of the zombie bacteria. Meanwhile he takes on a job looking for a 14-year-old goth girl. For all his street savvy and cynical tough-guy stance, Joe Pitt is also a good guy in the Philip Marlowe mold. Integrity is part of his make up and he can't shake it, even to save his own ass.
Huston keeps Pitt in almost constant peril. He weaves the plot while laying down the warp of his world and wefting a sizeable number of characters across it. It is all embroidered with a wicked eye for human and vampiric foible and considerable humor. And, to mix metaphors, he makes his tapestry while playing with genre like it's Silly Putty. He warms it up, smashes it down, picks up the ink, stretches it, bounces it around, snaps it to pieces and starts all over again as only a writer who truly loves this stuff can. And he's got some great writerly shtick. Huston uses superhuman sense of smell, for instance, to advance plot, provide setting, add to characterization, and establish tone.
Top it all off with dialogue as clear as vodka, and often taut as a stripper's g-string, and prose as tight as a too-small Trojan(R) and you have one mother of a good read.
Sorry about straining my metaphorical credulity, but I'm just a humble reviewer faced with the world's first pulp-noir-socio-political-metaphysical-spiritual-vampire-hard-boiled-detective-kickass-novel. Huston has a lot more story to tell, so it's obviously not the last. Uh HUH! Like I said: down on your knees. -- Paula Guran (Originally published in Cemetery Dance #55, Summer 2006)