Saturday, September 3, 2011

Girl on Book Action: 13 Bullets by David Wellington

13 Bullets by David Wellington
ISBN: 978-0-307-38143-9

All the official reports say they are dead – extinct since the late ‘80s, when a fed named Arkeley nailed the last vampire in a fight that nearly killed him.  But the evidence proves otherwise.

When a state trooper named Caxton calls the FBI looking for help in the middle of the night, it is Arkeley who gets the assignment – who else?  He’s been expecting such a call to come eventually.  Sure, it has been years since any signs of an attack, but Arkeley knows what most people don’t: there is one left.  In an abandoned asylum she is rotting, plotting and biding her time in a way that only the undead can.

Caxton is out of her league on this case and more than a little afraid, but the fed made it plain that there is only one way out.  But the worst thing is the feeling that the vampires want more than just her blood.  They want her for a reason, one she can’t guess; a reason her sphinxlike partner knows but won’t say; a reason she has to find out – or die trying.

Now there are only 13 bullets between Caxton and Arkeley and the vampires.  There are only 13 bullets between us, the living, and them, the damned.


My Thoughts:

If you've been following along for a while here at Girl on Book Action, you're likely familiar with the name David Wellington (this is the fourth book of his that I'm reviewing).  After my lukewarm feelings about Monster Island I abandoned his zombie books and turned my attention back to read the sequel of Frostbite called Overwinter.  And now I've finally turned my attention to the books that originally caught my eye, the vampire novels.

And what he did in this book took me back to when I first read Frostbite.  The excitement I felt at seeing a tired werewolf story transformed into something new and yet oddly traditional, picking up strands of the myths that are buried beneath the detritus of Hollywood.  Sure, the vampires in 13 Bullets are nothing new, but they are constructed on aspects of the myth that don't often get explored in popular vampire fiction.  For example, vampires in this book are products of suicide - afflicted with a curse before their deaths they will not rise as undead unless they kill themselves.  All the usual antidotes (garlic, crosses, holy water) are ineffectual against these monsters.  The only way to kill them is to destroy the heart, easy enough, right?  But when these vamps are full up on blood their skin is basically impregnable.  Yeah, they are tough and they are vicious and they are ugly.  No sparkles here.  No whining about living for eternity either.  Just bloodlust.

Facing one of these beasties is no fun and Arkeley bears the scars of his encounter (most noticeably some fused vertebrae, although his not particularly charming personality might also be considered a nasty scar).  Caxton collects some, too.  In the course of the book, a lot of people come face to face with the vampires and a lot of people die as a result of the encounter.  The injuries Arkeley and Caxton suffer really just mark them as lucky.

I have to admit that when Caxton turns out to be a lesbian I was put on guard.  I expected her sexuality to be an excuse for voyeuristic girl-on-girl scenes, so I was pleasantly surprised when these didn't materialize.  Although her girlfriend's art work made with menstrual blood was a bit of a cliche (seriously, I am not kidding).  Overall though, the relationships were believable and nuanced, not just caricatures, placeholders or shock-value items.

Caxton was an alright protagonist.  She was flawed and at times weak (almost too weak on occasion.)  For someone who is thrown into this impossible situation and has to start hunting vampires, she did a decent job of coping.  And by the end she'd earned my (somewhat grudging) respect (a few hysterical choices here and there almost soured me on her, we all know how I feel about hysteria).

The plot was well-crafted, revealing bits and pieces at a pace that kept things appropriately mysterious and interesting.  Caxton and Arkeley find clues and do some detecting and people get attacked in a way that moves the story along at a good clip.  I was never bored or wishing for gratuitous vampire attacks to shake things up.  A few sections were genuinely creepy - slight spoilers coming up - like the investigation in the village where every single person had been killed by the vampires.  The idea that this little town was completely empty, a ghost town, somehow really got under my skin.  And then there were other bits that, while unnerving, just they were there for shock-value, like the posing of the bodies in the hunter's lodge, the bones piled in the kitchen to turn it into some sort of mausoleum.  These things didn't really add anything to plot. The idea that one of the vampires was also a crazy serial killer was overkill - and here the slight spoilers shall end.

Overall, I enjoyed this novel and the take on vampires (which is my primary interest when I read these books - how are the vampires portrayed?).  Off the top of my head this is one of the few books I've come across recently that's done a good, scary vampire.  Nothing at all glorified or pretty, just grotesque, powerful monsters, with mouths full of shark-like teeth, big ears and hypnotic eyes.  If you're looking for vampires that definitely don't sparkle, you should check this out.  While 13 Bullets freshens up a tired myth, there were quite a few cliches in here and they began to grate on me (especially the menstrual blood art).  I'm used to Wellington's work being lighter on the trite cliches.  In the end, though, I'm definitely going to read the other three vampire novels Wellington has written - as soon as my seemingly never-ending ban on buying books ends (it would end faster if I wasn't constantly buying books anyway, damn those trips to the used bookstore!).

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