Sunday, August 12, 2007

Already Dead, by Charlie Huston [3]

***/***** (3/5)

"But I did get sloppy last night, and someone is gunna swing for it. So I'll fry a little to keep them happy and to keep myself alive. Because I don't want to die. Except, oh yeah, I'm already dead."

An interesting blend of gritty suspense, first-person detective thriller, and action in the context of a dark New York City (NYC) riddled with zombies, vampires and their socio-political hierarchies, Charlie Huston mixes a tangy cocktail punch in the form of ALREADY DEAD. There's a love mixed in as well, but true to guy fiction, it's a bit tragic and certainly not the primary focus of this novel. I liked the noir feel of ALREADY DEAD, I liked the fast-paced action, I enjoyed the dark NYC settings, I even liked the politics amongst the vampire (or "Vampyre") clans. The wry, sardonic humor our main character Joe Pitt exudes prompted some laughs. Charlie Huston's Joe Pitt reminded me of Richard Morgan's Takeshi Kovacs, but I liked Kovacs better. Charlie Huston's ALREADY DEAD hums with an impassioned detachment - if I can call it that - that stems from its main character Joe Pitt, and the book contains plenty of violence and explicit language. All of it builds the dark and gritty scene in an unsympathetic New York City nightlife crawling with vampyres, zombies and other creepy entities you don't want to meet in a dark alley.

A cool, fun book overall, I still found the final pieces of the mystery puzzle a bit lacking, a bit anti-climactic. Although I liked the anti-hero persona of Joe Pitt, I thought the book had him in a reactionary role throughout. From beginning to end, Joe Pitt is always reacting to the circumstances others have set in motion, never really dictating any of his own. I suppose that's part of what makes this book a mystery/suspense, but it'd be nice to see Joe setting something up for once. Even at the end when he retains Horde's teeth and ultimately evades the Coalition and Predo, I thought he lucked out rather than eliciting an outcome of his own making.

There's some memorable soliloquies and humorous lines in this novel. That in and of itself made the reading experience very worthwhile.

"Death has truly and finally arrived.


I have failed. Failed as a child; failed as a man; failed as a revolutionary; failed as a lover; failed as a goodguy. My only success in life has been as a pawn. Fuck it, I never asked to be any of those things. And my life was over by rights long ago. I've just been waiting to catch up to it. Then my heart explodes, beating a manic rhythm, and a I realize my life is not over.


The Story, possible SPOILERS.

We pick up the story as rogue vampyre Joe Pitt eliminates some "shamblers" (zombies) which pose a threat to the underground Vampyre hierarchy by drawing undue attention. 6-foot-3 Joe Pitt looks 28, but he was was turned into a Vampyre some 30 years ago, and initiated into the vampyre clan the Society in New York City by his then-friend, Terry Bird. In Terry's clan the Society, Joe serves as the Society's de facto Enforcer, meting out the Society's justice and punishment. He leaves the Society though to live as a rogue vampyre, no longer wanting to play someone else's thug enforcer. Joe is very cynical and often times unapologetic over his brutal actions and prosaic immorality.

Joe settles into a life of a rogue vampyre after he leaves the Society. Sometimes he's hired for jobs by the Society, other times, he's hired for jobs by the biggest vampyre clan, the Coalition. The Coalition hires Joe to eliminate some zombies as the book begins, zombies he cuts down on Society's turf. After eliminating the zombies, Joe realizes he still needs to find and kill the carrier who is at large. Predo from the Coalition threatens agonizing death (sunlight) if Joe doesn't clean up the mess from the zombies Joe killed, a mess in which Joe leaves an innocent witness alive and the zombie corpses in plain sight.

It's Joe's soft spot for trying-to-do-the-right-thing which lands him into some trouble, and Predo from the Coalition exploits these good-guy tendencies, and stages events which ultimately position Joe between a rock and hard place. Predo further confounds Joe's problems as he obliges Joe to help the most wealthy family in NYC (and the closest thing NYC has to an aristocracy) find their missing 14 year-old girl, Amanda Horde. Dale Horde (CEO and founder of Horde Bio Tech) and his wife Marilee are seemingly at odds with each other and with Joe. Meanwhile, Terry and the Society are on Joe's case for all the unwanted events on their turf. The most powerful and also the most surreptitious Vampyre clan the Enclave also seems to have adopted Joe against his wishes.

Between trying to balance the different vampyre clans (Society, the Coalition, the Enclave), finding the zombie carrier, finding the Horde girl, Joe also struggles to maintain a semblance of normalcy with his HIV-positive girlfriend Evie. He loves Evie and Evie loves him but of course she knows nothing of what he really is; that is, his vampyre life.

Welcome to Charlie Huston's ALREADY DEAD, where the shit hits the fan, and Joe Pitt must solve some riddles and cope to survive with everyone breathing down his neck. Except, of course, he's already dead.

"So that's one more thing for me to deal with. I'd like [making up girlfreind] to be at the top of my list, but it's not. Instead my list reads something like this:

1) Find carrier.
2) Find Horde girl.
3) Find out who is spying on me.
4) Call Terry.
5) Deal with Predo.
6) Make up with girlfriend.

Oh, and at the top of that list you can add, GET SOME BLOOD."

The action is good, and I was glad the end refrained from a Matrix finale. However, I was disappointed by the reactionary elements in the storytelling and the various pieces of the mystery puzzle itself seemed empty once we learn everything. Still, there's some good kick-ass writing here, fast pacing, plenty of action and of course, a hard-nosed gritty first-person characterization to sate anyone's appetite.

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