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REVIEW: Already Dead by Charlie Huston

REVIEW SUMMARY: Engaging vampire noir. With zombies!


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Joe Pitt, vampire for hire, must find a carrier of the dreaded virus and a socialite’s missing daughter.

PROS: The bleak-but-tasty noir feel; accessible and engaging writing style; realistic depiction of the effects of the virus.
CONS: Joe needed some more backbone; lack of quotes on dialogue sometimes caused unwelcome pauses in reading.
BOTTOM LINE: A refreshing and fun book.

I must confess having a bad reading experience years ago with Bram Stoker’s Dracula. If memory serves, I was having problems believing that Jonathan Harker would act so nonchalantly when his host-turned-jailor started doing very weird things. That incident sums up my entire vampire novel reading experience until now.

Already Dead by Charlie Huston was, for me, a much more approachable vampire novel. (However, I am refusing to use the too-smarmy spelling of “vampyre” and “vyrus” that permeates the book.) It’s not so much about vampires as it is a detective story with a partial vampire cast. The best words to describe the book are “Vampire noir”.

Unbeknownst to the residents of New York City, they have thousands of undead neighbors who are vampires thanks to a virus (note correct spelling) that gives them an insatiable appetite for blood. Not many people know about them. They try to keep a low profile because they are severely outnumbered. They roam the nighttime city (or the daylight hours if sufficiently covered) and hang out in clans, protecting their turf. Joe Pitt is a loner vampire-with-a-heart-of-gold who works for various clans on occasion. Sometimes his payment is in blood, which is fine by him because it saves him the trouble of tapping some poor innocent and absconding with the red stuff. Joe’s latest assignments include killing an elusive virus carrier – whose zombie victims manifest symptoms of the brain-eating variety – and finding a socialite’s fourteen year-old daughter who has gone missing.

Already Dead‘s bleak-but-tasty noir feel comes from some tight, talented writing on the part of the author. Joe narrates a reasonably engrossing story with cynicism, attitude and even some humor. (One odd note on the dialogue: instead of quotes, dialogue is prefaced with an extended dash. This took some getting used to and occasionally caused some unwelcome pauses in the reading when it required a verification of whether something was spoken or just narrative.) Joe is a likable enough character for his admirable handling of a difficult predicament. Sure, he’s a vampire, but he only kills when absolutely necessary, otherwise he draws blood from losers instead of perpetuating the virus or flat out committing murder. Joe’s relationship with the HIV-positive bartender Evie, a normal human who does not know his true nature, is complex, realistic and adds depth to the characters. Joe could have used more backbone, though. Several times it seemed like he caught in the flow of events instead of steering his way through.

The idea of vampire clans was pretty neat in a N.Y.C. street gang kind of way. The clan known as the Coalition fulfilled the mob role and has a habit of manipulating Joe. The Society is an anarchist clan headed by an aging hippie vampire who would love for Joe to rejoin their ranks. The Enclave seeks spiritual enlightenment by attempting to control the virus through starvation. There was a graphic but cool scene there when the reality of the virus made itself all-too-apparent to one Enclave member. The existence of clans was more than just for world-building; the relationships between them became part of the story. Nice touch.

Speaking of world-building, the book also does a fine job of outlining the constraints of vampire lore. (Short answer: daylight bad, garlic no problem.) The threat of being burned alive by sunlight was very real for Joe, and having one of the clans use that as a threat was a good idea. I’m not sure that all my questions are answered about “how vampires work”. It was never fully explained – nor was it essential to the story – how some of the infected became vampires and some became zombies. Oh well.

The mystery of the missing-girl is pretty solid if not all that dramatic. I wish I could say I guessed it ahead of time. I didn’t. But getting to the ending was still a fun ride and I’m eager to read the already-released sequel, No Dominion.

About John DeNardo (13012 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.
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