Friday, March 5, 2010

Book review: Already Dead: a novel by Charlie Huston

Oooh boy, did I ever like this book!

Already Dead, by Charlie Huston, doesn’t waste any time. It tells you right away that you’re in for a hell of a ride: by the top of page 6, a couple of junkies and a Goth zombie have cracked open the skull of an NYU student and are having a picnic. By the top of page 7, our anti-hero, Joe Pitt, has stomped the undead life out of the zombies, complaining all the while with liberal f-bombs that now he’s got to find the damn carrier that started the zombie infection in the first place. Plus he’s ticked because he burned the roof of his mouth on a slice of pizza. Oh, Joe, it’s just going to get worse from here.

Joe Pitt lives in Manhattan, has all his life, and that life is extra-long because Joe is a Vampyre. There are lots of Vampyres in NYC, organized into various clans – the extremely powerful Mafia-esque Coalition; the post-modern hippies called the Society who want Vampyres to live out and proud; the super-creepy ascetic-warriors of the Enclave; and other, smaller groups – and Joe wants nothing to do with any of them. He just wants to be left alone. But all these clans have plans for him and he’s got to make them all happy, or at least not piss any of them off too much, and try to keep a low profile. But when the Coalition enlists his help (insists upon his help) to track down a missing little girl from the very right side of the tracks, Joe can’t refuse.

In my reviews, I’ve referred to the Dresden Files books as “noir.” After reading Already Dead, I’ll have to revise that to “noir-lite” because Joe Pitt? He’s noir. Cynical, cranky, put-upon and tougher-than-tough, Joe is one bad ass vampire detective. I’m an Angel fan and Joe could kick Angel’s ass before breakfast. His Manhattan is not a place anyone would want to live, teeming with extremely scary Vampyres, shamblers, ghoulish beasties and nasty humans. And Joe has seen – and done – it all. He’s a great character, and he’s surrounded with great characters. His human girlfriend is a sassy HIV-positive bartender who refuses to have sex with him because she doesn’t want to infect him, not knowing that he’s a vampire and that the Vyrus that has infected him renders him impervious to her disease.

This is another thing that I loved about this book, aside from the complex plot, the vivid characters and the unabashed, gleeful and gory action: we’re actually offered a nearly-plausible scientific explanation for vampires and zombies. Vampyres are created when they’re infected with a “Vyrus,” that allows them to heal quickly from nearly anything aside from a total beheading, gives them extra strength and heightened senses, makes them extremely photosensitive and causes them to need human blood to sustain themselves. Zombies, on the other hand, are infected by a flesh-eating bacteria that will ultimately devour its host but, until it does, maintains partial control of the host’s muscular and nervous systems and urges its host to attack and consume other people as a means of self-preservation/propagating. Jeesh, when you say it like that it almost makes sense!

I was thrilled to learn that Already Dead is just the first in the Joe Pitt Casebooks series; at this point, I have four more to read before I catch up. I am just going to tear through these books, they’re so much fun. The only downside is that the Dresden Files, which I liked so well up until now, pale somewhat in comparison. Without a doubt, if you are in the mood for a supernatural noir thriller, I recommend that you spend some time with Joe Pitt.

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