Thursday, October 29, 2009

Taking a bite into Charlie Huston's vampire series

Posted By on Thu, Oct 29, 2009 at 12:57 PM

The image of the undead bloodsucker has taken a hit in recent years.  The fact of the matter is, vampires aren’t scary anymore, and they're not dangerous.  The vampire is lusted after, the Twilight series has all but defanged the vamp.

It came as a surprise to me back in 2005, when I discovered a writer by the name of Charlie Huston. Huston was in the beginning of an epic writing spree, - having published 10 novels since 2004 - with more on the horizon.  Having begun the Hank Thompson series with his debut, Caught Stealing, Huston proved to be a new voice in the world of noir, bringing a rough-hewed, blue collar, razor sharp, direct tone to his writing.


In 2005, his first in a The Joe Pitt Casebooks series, Already Dead, proved him also capable of handling the dried up corpse of the vampire archetype.  Coming out the same year as the first in the Twilight series, Already Dead put readers dead in the center of an original and unique take.  These vampires, or Vampyres as Huston calls them, are similar to the way vampires have been depicted in the past, but not entirely.  Yeah, they need blood, and sunlight kills them in an explosion of tumors, but garlic, holy water and crosses are no threat to them.

What Huston does is strip the vampire-mythos down to its core, removing virtually all of the supernatural.  In his world, Vampyres are caused by the Vyrus.  Once the Vyrus gets inside you, it requires one thing and one thing only: blood.  You feed it, and the Vyrus keeps you healthy, gives you strength, and slows aging.

A unique aspect of Huston's Vampyres are the Clans involved, more Cosa Nostra than Masquerade and with a hidden world just beneath ours, that's inherent to the story.  The Joe Pitt Casebooks series takes place in Manhattan.  The island is divided among different clans, such as the top of the heap and most Mafia-like of them, the Coalition, as well as Pitt’s former organization, the Society, the Hood down in Brooklyn, the mystical Enclave, and a few smaller groups eager for their own territory.  The Coalition wants the Vampyres to stay creatures of myth, the Society wants to bring them into the light and unite with humanity.  Everyone else wants something, but mostly just to survive.  Joe Pitt is a Rogue, having left the Society and its leader, the Lennon-esque Terry Bird, who plays Pitt from the start and puts him against the Coalition’s upper-crust head of security, Dexter Predo.

Already Dead puts us in the middle of Pitt’s Manhattan, by first trying to put down some zombie shamblers. Then, there’s a call for Pitt to find the missing daughter of a rich industrialist.  Rich, tight prose and actions scenes are established, in the pulp tradition Huston happily mines with nothing being too flashy.


No Dominion, the second in the series, puts Pitt in a bind, - low on blood and rent money - and back in the grip of Terry Bird.  No Dominion expands on the mythology with the introduction of a drug that causes the Vampyre users to freak out.  Someone is supplying this dangerous drug, known as “anathema”, and Pitt has to get to the bottom of it, which puts him in contact and conflict with Brooklyn’s the Hood.  Issues arise with Pitt’s girl, Evie, who has no clue what he is, and is suffering from complications with the latest round of medications to combat her HIV.


Half the Blood of Brooklyn in Brooklyn puts Pitt back in the Society fold, again acting as chief of security, a role meant for a tough mug like him. The only problem is that he’s never been one for following the rules.  Small groups of Vampyres in Brooklyn are starting to cross over into Manhattan, threatening the balance and order of the clans there. Evie is getting worse, and Pitt fights the temptation to save her by the only way he knows how, -  infecting her with the Vyrus - despite there being no guarantee it’ll work, as the Vyrus isn’t compatible with everyone.  If it doesn’t work, she’ll die in a way that’d make AIDS seem tame.


Every Last Drop puts Pitt at his most desperate, out in the comparative wilds of the Bronx and against the Society by Predo. All the while a new clan, Cure, started by the rescued girl of Already Dead, opens to anyone who wants to join and causes the tenuous cease-fires to rupture.  Considered the weakest of the series, Every Last Drop does a great job of setting up the knock down finale of My Dead Body, which brings together every thread into a wonderful noir tapestry and completely changing the game.


Most entertaining in My Dead Body are knocks at the romantic qualities seemingly inherent in vampire fiction today, that is the love between a human woman and a Vampyre man that is center to the mystery of the final.  A perfect end to the series, My Dead Body brings Pitt back up to the surface. He leaves the sewers and tunnels he’s made his home, after causing civil war between the Clans.

Through five novels, Huston creates a world and redefines the common myths of the vampire ,- all but rescuing the genre from the romantic overtones - while at the same time subverting and reinforcing the role of love in such fiction. Every person Pitt kills, every war he starts, all seems to be because of a woman. This has to be one hell of a woman.

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