Vampire$ by John Steakley
(Signet, £5.99, 357 pages, first British publication 1997)
On the back cover of Vampire$ the following question is posed: Suppose there really were vampires. Dark. Stalking. Destroying. They'd have to be killed, wouldn't they? Of course they would. But what kind of fools would try to make a living at it?
The answer that Steakley proposes, is Jack Crow and his team of All-American vampire hunters. Team Crow, as the group is called, are pleasantly ruthless men who do their work with heavy-duty crossbows, barb-headed quarrels and semtex.
Furthermore, after a hard day's vampire killing they like to unwind by beating up local law-enforcement officers, getting blind drunk, swearing and whoring. Mind you, they have pretty good reasons for this kind of behaviour, because the vampires they're dealing with aren't your basic two-neat-puncture-marks-on-the-neck style vamps, but the supercharged rip-men's-heads-off-and-tear-out-their-spines variety. All of which tends, naturally, to be quite wearing on a fellow.
At least initially then, this seems to be a novel of blue collar blokes as vampire hunters. But it gets complicated. These vampires really are Damned. They're irredeemably depraved, vicious and murderous (a bit like Hannibal Lector on speed), and unfortunately, as it soon turns out, some of them have found out who Jack Crow is, and are now hunting him.
Steakley has built a reasonable plot, full of sudden explosions of violence, and a few slightly surprising twists. The problem however, is that it just isn't frightening. It isn't frightening because Jack Crow and Team, for all their toils and troubles, just don't seem credible. These are people drawn in such garish colours, bouncing through such extremes of fear, courage, remorse and certitude, that they don't convince. I couldn't take them as real, and so I couldn't fear for them, and so I wasn't frightened; this, in what is substantially a horror novel, is a pretty serious flaw.
Vampire$ offers some original takes on the vampire genre, and is written in a clear, lucid, style, but it would have been better served by a lower noise level, a more restrained approach to its characters, and an ambience that tended toward the sinister rather than the slaughter-yard.
This review was first published in the British Fantasy Society newsletter, Prism.
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© Simeon Shoul 23 June 2001