268 Pages/January 2006
Author Web site: http://www.charliehuston.com
Vampire sleuth battles zombies in Manhattan. That is the bare bones high concept of Charlie Huston’s infectious novel Already Dead. When I say infectious, I don’t mean like the Vyrus running through the veins of Huston’s Vampyres protagonist Joe Pitt, or the bacteria that animates his Zombies. No, the infections I felt while tearing through Already Dead were more akin to laughter that starts slowly and erupts into one of those rare, uncontrollable belly laughs, or the infectious type of story you aren’t entirely sure about over the first few pages but grabs you by the arm and won’t let go until you finish.
Huston draws the reader in through the familiarity of New York City, whether this familiarity be from the reader’s own experiences there or what they’ve seen of the world’s most famous city in other media venues. In the opening of the novel, while a bit clunky, Huston does an effective job of laying out the vampyre world Joe Pitt inhabits. The underworld (as in supernatural) world of Manhattan is divided into several Vampyre clans. The most notable are the Society, the Coalition, and the Enclave, three groups with which Joe has strong ties. In this Vampyre underworld, Joe is a private detective of sorts, having no formal membership in any of the clans and one of the only Rouges, or independents. At the outset, Joe discovers what seem to be zombies. Or rather squatters in a run down school who have a ravenous hunger for flesh and brains, both qualities highly associated with zombies. Since these zombies appear in his neighborhood, Joe takes care of them, as he has appointed himself something of a steward for his neighborhood.
However, Joe doesn’t do such a great job and is hired by Dexter Predo, the powerful figurehead of the Coalition, to clean up his mess and find the source of the bacteria, which created the zombies. Things get complicated when a beautiful Manhattan socialite, Marilee Horde, hires Joe to find her missing daughter, whom she discovered through her acquaintance with Predo. Very few people know of the Vampyres, Mrs. Horde happens to be one of them. With these two cases running him crazy, Joe also tries to balance his ties to the Society, the vaguely-hippie-esque Vampyre clan, make sure he’s got enough blood stashed away, not upset the more traditional Enclave, and maintain a relationship with his AIDS-infected girlfriend Evie.
Initially, I felt Huston was trying too hard to come off as a "cool" writer with a "cool" protagonist. However, those feelings soon fell to the wayside as I became absorbed in Joe’s plight. Huston did a great job of building up the pressure on Joe throughout the novel and brought the story to a great and very satisfying climax.
There are a lot of vampire novels on the shelves, and particularly novels involving supernatural creatures (vampires) or character types (wizards & witches) populating the shelves. Of these types of books, I found myself, favorably, comparing what I was reading here with Andrew Fox’s Fat White Vampire books. The tone is a bit different, but the realistic feel and vampire clans are similar. Maybe because I recently read it, Huston’s book had a similar vibe to Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, as well. I would strongly recommend fans of those two series, as well as people who enjoy a strong dose of the supernatural in to their mystery, to check out Already Dead. While the book is a singular work, Huston has plans for more books in what he’s calling the Joe Pitt Casebooks, and Already Dead works equally effective as a stand-alone novel, as it does as the opening of a larger story. There are a lot of avenues Huston can travel with Pitt, I’d be happy to go along for the ride.
© 2006 Rob H. Bedford