Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Bloodsucking Fiends – review

Author: Christopher Moore

First Published: 1995

Contains Spoilers

Bloodsucking Fiends is, I guess, an action/horror/comedy, to a degree it is a romantic comedy, though the humour cuts a little finer than that genre. I was drawn to the book by the blurb on the back cover when it said “…a distinctly Nosferatuan thirst.” This, thinks I, is a great adjective and one that really needs picking up by the Oxford English Dictionary and blessed with an official place in the English language.

The book is concerned with Jody who, one night, is attacked by a vampire. Rather than kill her, however, the vampire gives her his blood, a large amount of money and then covers her body with a dumpster. He leaves one hand exposed so that it will burn in the sun and allow her to know what damage the sun can do. He then watches her progress as a fledgling undead.

C Thomas Flood, an aspiring would be Kerouac who is known as Tommy to his friends, has moved to San Francisco from a backwater Indiana town to become a writer. In the meantime he night-clerks in a Safeways. He and Jody meet and they move in together, rather rapidly, Jody confessing her “condition” to him as she has realised that she needs someone who can function in the daylight.

However bodies, drained of blood and with broken necks, are beginning to pile up and all of them are found in the vicinity of the new vampire and her boyfriend. The vampire that made her is playing games and they don’t know the rules. The cops are looking for a killer and the Emperor of San Francisco, a homeless man with his army of two dogs, is hunting a vampire. Interestingly the Emperor is actually treated like royalty by many of the city residents.

The rules of vampirism in this are mainly standard with one exception, I'll mention later. They can die, exposure to the sun is one way and there is a discussion around beheading. Crosses do not work and neither does garlic. The vampires ‘die’ at sunrise, wherever they are, so there is no daywalking out of direct sunlight and awaken immediately at sunset. Jody has unnatural strength, speed and agility; she can see in the dark and perceive auras. The vampires seem to gain more powers as they age and the older vampire can turn to mist. We discover that running water harming vampires is a myth and that vampires can’t drown.

We also discover that vampire spittle is curative, which conveniently heals those tell tale bite marks. Indeed on their rebirth the vampires loose such irritating things as the wrinkles that may have appeared around their eyes, scars and even freckles. What they appear not to loose when they turn is weight, as Jody believes herself to be five pounds over ideal weight, Moore manages to keep this in check and whilst the character mentions it for comedy effect she doesn’t obsess through the book, which would have been irritating. If the vampire doesn’t feed often enough their body starts falling apart, some hair loss seemed to be the first effect, and they can ingest nothing but blood.

The bodies the cops are finding are deliberately 'intact' as, when Jody first kills through feeding, the drained human turns to dust. This is the exception I mentioned as this is not a common power in the genre, it seems that the older vampire is breaking their necks before he completely drains them dry.

The book itself is not laugh out loud funny but it is very amusing all the way through, with a great writing style. I loved the description of Jody’s first taste of blood:

“She heard herself moaning with each beat of Kurt’s heart. It was a machine-gun orgasm, dark chocolate, spring water in the desert, a hallelujah chorus and the cavalry coming to the rescue all at once.”

The characters are well drawn, though the vampire remains a mysterious creature, despite a little background later. Of all the characters he seems the least well drawn but that’s fine as it adds to his mystery. That said you start to feel for Jody, Tommy, the Emperor and even the two detectives – on the case and out of their depth.

The story has the surrealism of comedy well in place but, at times, can have pathos and insight, such as when Tommy discovers that a member of his night crew is illiterate.

The title, incidentally, comes from when Jody decides to attend a Vampires Anonymous type meeting, though is disappointed when she realises that all the attendees are human. However, before she leaves, we hear an attendee say, “Hi, I’m Tabitha and I’m a bloodsucking fiend.”

The book is a nice light read and I’m happy to give it 7 out of 10.

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