I don't particularly care for the hard-boiled genre of crime novels, and it probably goes without saying that I'm no fan of vampires either. Yet I loved Charlie Huston's Already Dead, which is a smart and gritty combo of both. Who knew?
Uber-agent Donna Bagdasarian, that's who. She recommended Charlie Huston to me over drinks at Love is Murder. (Donna, if you're reading, kisses!) I'd never heard of the guy, but after telling her about my own novel, she pretty much put it on my required reading list. What can I say? Donna's powers of persuasion should be legendary.
As should Charlie Huston, if this book is any indication of what he's up to.
The place: New York City. The time: Not quite yesterday, not yet tomorrow. Vampires inhabit the city in the thousands, organized into competing guilds that are just this side of tumbling into all-out war. Joe Pitt -- blood-thirsty private eye -- is caught in the middle of it all.
The plot is pure urban noir. An underage heiress has run away from home and her parents want Joe to track her down through Manhattan's lower levels of Hell. There's another job that Joe is trying to finish as well -- locating the source of a zombie-creating bacteria that's somehow running loose in the streets. Then there's his HIV-positive girlfriend, who loves Joe but won't fuck him, and Joe's own complicated relationship with the various Vampyre cults and all their competing interests. Not to mention Joe's own conflicted feelings about what he is and the things he has to do to survive.
It's a complicated tale full of twists and turns, and I probably would have placed Already Dead into my own personal remainder bin if it weren't for the book's swift, engaging style and Joe's own infectious sense of snark. Even with a broken jaw and tied up by thugs, the guy manages to toss off one-liners like candy from a parade float. I couldn't help but like him. He's smart, he's brave despite being sick and tired of the whole damned mess, and he wants desperately to do the right thing, even when he isn't sure what that is but is certain it'll only get him into more trouble.
The portions that struck me the most, the ones I'd read this book again for, were those describing the various strata of Vampyre society -- particularly the ascetic Enclave, who seek enlightenment through starvation -- the tale of Joe's long-ago initiation into the life of the Undead, and his ongoing efforts to survive it one night at a time.
Fans of the vampire genre should check out Already Dead if they haven't already. (Along with its sequels, No Dominion and Half the Blood of Brooklyn.) Un-fans, like me, should consider it as well, because there are delights here for even the most strident Van Helsing.
And the cover is kick-ass, too.