Wednesday, February 20, 2008

No Dominion by Charlie Huston

No Dominion is second of the three (to date) Joe Pitt mysteries, about a vampire in New York City. Unlike other mysteries with vampires I've seen -- urban fantasy or paranormal romance, or things like P.N. Elrod's historical "Vampire Files" series -- Huston's series is seriously hardboiled, with a brooding antihero and lots of violence. Huston's vampires are organized like gangs, dividing Manhattan into territories and controlled by violent, charismatic leaders. There's not a hint of romance in these vampires; they were turned by the unfortunately-named "Vyrus" and they have no supernatural powers of mesmerism or transformation.

Pitt lives in Alphabet City, which -- along with parts of the Village -- are the stomping grounds of The Society. The Coalition covers most of the island, from 14th street north to the borders of Harlem, where The Hood takes over. Down in the far south are a number of smaller groups who don't take part in this novel. Aside from the fact that they're officially vampires, and can't go out in full sun (sunlight triggers the Vyrus in their blood to set off an epic number of cancers almost immediately), these groups are all basically organized crime families: filled with both intrigue and "family" ties, riddled with agents for other families, and prone to settling disputes with sudden violence. (There's also an even more secretive, and weird, set of essentially vampire warrior Zen monks, but let's leave them aside for now.)

In this book, Pitt -- who isn't part of any vampire group, but is allowed to live in Society territory because he occasionally does jobs for the Society's head, Terry Bird -- becomes caught up in various plots as he tries to track down the source of a new and dangerous drug that many of the young vampires in his area are using. That leads to many of the usual hardboiled novel tropes -- a creepy rich old lady, a violent black crimelord and his dogfighting pit, and the aforementioned vampire pseudo-Shaolin monks. Huston brandishes his cliches with relish, though, making them larger than life and so believeable.

On the less positive side, he also punctuates all dialogue with an initial dash, and refuses to give any speech tags, which is incredibly annoying at the beginning of the novel, but eventually slides into the background. It's an awfully highbrow affectation for a hardboiled vampire novel, though.

Given Huston's publishing history -- he wrote a three-book mystery series before the Joe Pitt books -- it makes sense that this will probably appeal more to the mystery reader than to the vampire fan. (As I said above, these aren't romantic vampires at all.) And I'm impressed at how nasty Huston makes Pitt -- at one point, our hero kills three people just because they're in the room and it's easier to do so.

But I do think I need to warn the usual vampire fan -- Joe Pitt is not a nice guy, he's not on the side of the angels, and he's not even a Chandleresque "tarnished angel." He's a semi-retired mob fixer who's getting dragged back in. He's not going to have long speeches about how his friends are important to him; he's not going to soften because of Twu Wuv. He's a hard bastard, so only jump onto this series if you like reading about hard bastards.

1 comment:

Lawrence said...

Nice review, although I was not as frustrated by the "initial dash" as you seemed to be. In fact, I thought it pretty much suited Charlie Huston's clipped style of prose and the staccato way he writes the dialogues. Apart from the positive aspects you already noted, I think the pacing of these novels is also perfect. Be sure to check out Half the Blood of Brooklyn (third volume) if you've the chance to do so.

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