By Charlie Huston; Read by Scott Brick
8 CDs – 9 hours – [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Themes: / Horror / Hard-boiled / Detective / noir / Vampires / Zombies /
I lent this audiobook to a friend. Later, listening to me waxing enthusiastic over the book, he said in a dubious tone, “That’s the book where the zombies and vampires are fighting?”
It is true that vampirism is a key element of detective Joe Pitt’s character as practically everything he does entails watchful details to stay alive and undetected for what he is. Already Dead is, first and foremost, heart and soul, a hard-boiled detective novel. One might be forgiven for thinking that Charlie Huston is merely another author taking advantage of the recent trend featuring vampires as key characters in fiction. However, they would be dead wrong. What becomes very clear is that Huston is taking advantage of this fantastical setting to examine good versus evil, rising to humanity versus sinking to the level of animals, the societal urge to define oneself by the group one joins, and, of course, what constitutes true love. It is no surprise then to find that some of the greatest intentional evil is perpetrated not by vampires but by mere human beings. All of these themes are set forth for us in crackling dialogue that hearkens back to the best of Raymond Chandler and Billy Wilder, who one is irresistibly reminded co-wrote the screenplay for the film-noir classic Double Indemnity. In fact, a scene toward the end of the book between Joe and his girlfriend Evie is a noir-style dialogue masterpiece that sends thrills through the listener and that would not be out of place in that movie.
The nub of the story is that Joe Pitt is hired to track down the runaway teenage daughter of a wealthy couple. He delves deeper into the case and increasingly complex and sordid details come to light. Naturally, this is set against a background of New York City vampirism which is the result of catching a virus. The zombies also are the result of a virus, albeit quite a different one which robs the victim of any brain power and leaves them with an insatiable urge for human flesh. It is through tracking down a zombie in order to dispose of it before regular human attention is drawn to the existence of various virus-challenged individuals that Joe is drawn into the case. A loner, Joe must walk a careful line between the Coalition, the Enclave, and various other gang-like power brokerages that exist in vampire society, all of which are interested in some aspect of the investigation. Joe’s girlfriend, Evie, is a regular human infected with HIV, who knows nothing about Joe’s infection. The mutual affection and the need between two such lonely people makes an interesting contrast when one considers Joe’s virus is keeping him alive while Evie’s will eventually kill her.
I have read descriptions comparing Huston to Elmore Leonard and that didn’t ring true until considering The Society, which always made me giggle. (Yes, giggle. Deal with it.) The Society is made up of progressive vampires who are committed to diversity and look forward to the day when vampires are accepted in society as merely another minority. Joe occasionally winds up in their custody and the scraps of conversation he overhears before they realize he is conscious are always humorous. Consider the fact that zombies are termed “Victims of Zombification” as per The Society vote. All conversation halts when someone mistakenly uses the politically incorrect “zombie” until they can be patiently corrected. Extremely Elmore Leonard-esque indeed.
I originally checked the hardback out of the library but it failed to hold my interest for reasons I cannot now remember. However, the narrative fairly blazes alive the second one hears the world-weary Joe Pitt voiced by Scott Brick. My admiration grew as a suave mob boss, The Society leader Terry exhorting Joe to “be cool,” a loving mother who is nonetheless a lush, and a host of other characters all sprang instantly to life with subtle but masterful voicing. I didn’t realize the narrator was the well-known Brick, whose occasional blogging and podcasting I have followed with interest. Listening to this book I realized how skillful he is at his trade. I’m now a fan, not only of author Charlie Huston, but also of Scott Brick.
Warning: The language and situations are explicit although not to an unnecessary degree in most cases. This is a modern, gritty novel and listener discretion is advised.
Posted by Julie D.