Those stories you hear? The ones about things that only come out at night? Things that feed on blood, feed on us? Got news for you: they’re true. Only it’s not like the movies or old man Stoker’s storybook. It’s worse. Especially if you happen to be one of them. Just ask Joe Pitt. There’s a shambler on the loose. Some fool who got himself infected with a flesh-eating bacteria is lurching around, trying to munch on folks’ brains. Joe hates shamblers, but he’s still the one who has to deal with them. That’s just the kind of life he has. Except afterlife might be better word. From the Battery to the Bronx, and from river to river, Manhattan is crawling with Vampyres. Joe is one of them, and he’s not happy about it. Yeah, he gets to be stronger and faster than you, and he’s tough as nails and hard to kill. But spending his nights trying to score a pint of blood to feed the Vyrus that’s eating at him isn’t his idea of a good time. And Joe doesn’t make it any easier on himself. Going his own way, refusing to ally with the Clans that run the undead underside of Manhattan–it ain’t easy. It’s worse once he gets mixed up with the Coalition–the city’s most powerful Clan–and finds himself searching for a poor little rich girl who’s gone missing in Alphabet City. Now the Coalition and the girl’s high-society parents are breathing down his neck, anarchist Vampyres are pushing him around, and a crazy Vampyre cult is stalking him. No time to complain, though. Got to find that girl and kill that shambler before the whip comes down . . . and before the sun comes up.
That's from the back cover of Charlie Huston's Already Dead, first in the series starring his vampiric private eye Joe Pitt. I normally try to write my own summary of whatever book I'm reviewing, but this back cover copy pretty much covers it, as well as the hard-boiled tone of the book. Anyway, I'm a little behind in my book blogging "duties" so I'll just cut to the chase.
Already Dead is a vampire book I can really sink my teeth into (Har-dee-har. You don't know how long I've been waiting to use that one). I've complained before about not being able to find an "urban fantasy" type book that I could really enjoy. I haven't read very widely in the genre and there are a few here and there that I really got into, but there seems to be an abundance of ones that are little more than tedious romances with brooding, snarky protagonists, or tough women in leather pants with katanas (not that I mind that per se, but I'd say the market is flooded). So it was a pleasure to read Huston's hard-boiled prose. I can only take so much thoughtful introspection from a protagonist. Joe Pitt's first-person narration is refreshingly matter-of-fact.
Also, Huston's vampiric underworld is well-thought out, with a lot of interesting characters among the vampire (sorry-- Vampyre) cliques of NYC. While this is a point in its favor, it's also sort of a criticism. The world is well-thought out but I don't think we necessarily have to be introduced to it all at once. It seemed like Huston was in a hurry to get us up to speed with the haps in the vampire world. While the other vampires in Pitt's world are pretty interesting characters, it seemed like introducing us to them, one episode after the other, felt forced and sort of drove an already convoluted plot further astray.
Speaking of plot, Joe Pitt didn't seem like a very effective character to drive the plot. It often seemed like the plot drove him, with him getting knocked out and captured all the time (well, at least twice, if I remember). Pitt may be a tough guy, but he didn't seem particularly competent. I realize he wasn't really a professional PI or anything, but I kinda need a little more than that.
I have to admit, personal taste may have prevented Already Dead from attaining "excellent" status for me. For one, I kind of prefer my vampires to be of the supernatural sort, whereas the vampires of Pitt's world have been infected with the Vyrus (not to be confused with the Miley Vyrus. Ha-ha. No? OK.). Not a big deal, it's just personal preference, but I generally don't like too much logic mixed up into what I feel like should be more of a supernatural thing. I sort of think that vampires should be monsters and not simply people afflicted with a disease.
And, finally, sometimes I just didn't feel like it was a fun thing to read all the time. I mean, it was dark and gritty--hard-boiled, noir, and all that-- but sometimes it was just a little too much so, to the point that I didn't really feel like visiting Pitt's NYC as much as I would have liked. Seemed like Huston was really working hard to push the noir aspect that he pushed it over the edge. In the same vein (pun unintended, but I'm happy to oblige) I felt the punk band name dropping was a bit too much effort for a retro-hip vibe.
The verdict: ★★★✬✩ (3.5/5 stars). Reading all my complaints, you'd think that I didn't enjoy Already Dead, but overall I liked it. I like Huston's writing style and I think I'll probably enjoy the rest of the series. I'm hoping that my criticisms just stem from the fact that this was the first in a series and maybe Huston tried a little too hard to establish atmosphere and introduce the world. Hopefully the next volumes will feel less forced. Complaints aside, Already Dead is a cool, dark, bloody mystery and fans of gritty, urban vampires won't be disappointed.