March 2006

Beth Dugan

fiction

Already Dead by Charlie Huston

I am a general fan of the vampire/supernatural genre. I love the different takes each author has on the old vampire myth and how it applies to modern world. Some vampires never change, some are immortal, some are evil, some have a virus, some have no soul, and some are just like regular people, but paler. Charlie Huston's interpretation of Vampire lore is just as original.

In his third novel Already Dead, Huston creates a new New York, teeming with the undead, just below the radar. Joe Pitt (not his real name, the undead take a new name when they are "reborn") was infected with the Vampyre Virus when he was a 17-year-old runaway tweaking on the bathroom floor of CBGB. He is 45 now but looks 25. The Vampyres in New York have formed clans or gangs and have divided up sections of the city for their feeding territory. Joe, having rejected the pseudo-religious or mafia-like manifestos of the most powerful clans in the city, leads a perilously existence just outside of all society, human and vampyre. He has a cushy hidey-hole to keep him safe during the day and an underground system of nefarious contacts to help him with the odd detective and protection jobs he gets. He needs to keep all sects happy, but not too happy.

It's one such job from the Mafioso Vampyre clan that gets him into trouble. One of the city's most powerful family's daughter is missing. She disappeared into the underbelly and got herself mixed up with some flesh eaters, i.e. Zombies. (Zombies are also infected with a virus, but a nastier, faster moving virus that eats their brains and makes them crave flesh). Joe has to find the girl, find the zombie source and take care of both.

Huston's novel is noir and reeking with ambiance. The seedy underworld that the girl disappeared into and in which junkies and others exist in every day leaps off the page with smells and sounds and gritty details that ring true. The story is Joe's first person account of what happens on this "case" and is written with sparse punctuation and in dialect. Joe isn't a vampyre with a heart of gold but he is a nuanced and complex character. He is struggling with his need to stay alive by feeding on humans, his need to belong without being used, and for human contact. He is also a no nonsense bad boy who uses his preternatural strength to coheres and get the job done. There is plenty of blood and gore, brains being eaten and skulls being split open and some racy sex scenes but there is also a humming dialogue about the soul and what it means to be human and to be other.

At the end, the scene is set for another Joe Pitt thriller noir case. Questions linger, yet to be answered. The political arena is primed. The supporting cast, like Joe's HIV positive girlfriend Evie, were well developed this time around but are waiting in the wings for more. I would be surprised if this was the last we hear from Joe Pitt and Charlie Huston.

Already Dead by Charlie Huston
Del Rey
ISBN: 034547824X
288 Pages