Monday, May 26, 2008

99 coffins – review


Author: David Wellington

First Published: 2007

Contains spoilers

The blurb: “Laura Caxton vowed never to face them again. The horror of what the vampires did is too close, the wounds too fresh. But when Jameson Arkeley, broken and barely recognizable, comes to her with an unfathomable, unholy discovery, her resolve crumbles.

“Arkeley leads Caxton to a tomb in Gettysburg recently excavated by a local archaeology professor. While the town, with its legendary role in the Civil War’s worst battle, is no stranger to cemeteries, this one is remarkably, eerily different. In it lie 100 coffins – 99 of them occupied by vampires, who, luckily, are missing their hearts. But one of the coffins is empty and smashed to pieces.

“Who is the missing vampire? Does he have access to the 99 hearts that, if placed back in the bodies of their owners, could reanimate an entire bloodthirsty army? How did the vampires end up there, undisturbed and undiscovered for 150 years? The answer lies in Civil War documents that contain sinister secrets about the newly found coffins – secrets that Laura Caxton is about to uncover as she is thrown into a deadly, gruesome mission of saving an entire town from a mass invasion of the undead…”

The review: I was much taken with the first of Wellington’s series, 13 Bullets, feeling that he had “put the action, the gore and the horror back into the genre with a well written book.” Thus when I settled down to read this, the sequel, I was looking forward to a high-octane read.

Whilst in certain sections through the book this is true, Wellington mixed the style up dramatically and created a very different and well oiled piece of prose. One difference was the historical perspective – indeed the cover tags the book as “a historical vampire tale.” We have chapters which are purported reports and documents from the American Civil War. I am not that well versed in this area of history; however the documents worked well and added a very nice depth to the story.

The modern sections are much more investigative than the first one was and this worked well also, counter-balancing the action nicely. We get some more lore such as if a vampire heart is removed the vampire less dies and more goes into stasis – return the heart and the vampire comes back to life, or undeath more accurately. We also discover that, perhaps, not all of the vampires are the killing obsessed machines described in the first book… That isn’t to say that they are not ruthless killers but that they can maintain some non-vampiric traits such as a sense of honour or even seek revenge on their own kind (unusual as the vampires tend to have an ancestor type worship of older undead).

Character wise was where I felt this lagged behind 19 bullets to a small degree. Arkeley is more or less side-lined in this and I missed his dour, single minded and no nonsense character. Caxton shifted position as a character, taking on some of Arkeley’s traits and, whilst this was logical within the story I missed the character we had come to care for in the first book. This isn’t to say that the characters were bad but that I had perhaps grown to like them through the first book more than I realised at the time and thus the shifts felt a little uncomfortable.

One aspect I liked was the thought that Caxton and Arkeley had developed somewhat of a celebrity status as their previous exploits had been turned into a dramatised movie – “Teeth: the Pennsylvania Vampire Killings”. Wellington has, with this, touched onto the same territory as the ham-fisted social commentary in “Diary of the Dead” and dealt with it using a subtlety, grace and skill that the Romero-flick could only dream of.

The book was reviewed in an (as always) excellent review by Curt Purcell over at the groovy age of horror. In this he addresses the ultra-modernist approach to the books (Civil War scenes aside) and I think it is worth adding in here that I enjoyed the move away from perhaps the traditional, the romantic and the gothic, certainly it helps kill of the Ricean pathos in one fell swoop and it fits neatly into (and at the head of) the movement within the genre that is reclaiming the horror that had been drummed out of the vampire novel/film.

When I read this I found myself thoroughly engrossed and unable to put it down. 8.5 out of 10. Thanks to my lovely wife who bought me the novel.

2 comments:

Ryne said...

Hi,

Curt Purcell dropped me your link because your blog was all about vampires, and as my blog is hosting a blog-a-thon where a blogger can post a blurb on anything vampire-related, and seeing as your blog's topic is vampires, I figured I'd give you a shout to tell you about it.

It's only an invitation, but if you'd like to participate, all you'd need to do is write up a blog post about something to do with vampires (whether it be a review or otherwise), let me know by comment or email (rb9589@mcla.edu) and then I will link to your post at my blog. I just thought I'd let you know, seeing as your blog has some quality posts on vampires.

Thanks a lot,
Ryne

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Cheers Ryne

I've emailed you