Del Rey / Random House
US Trade Paperback Original
Publication Date: 12-27-2005
268 Pages; $12.95
Date Reviewed: 02-14-06
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2006
It takes a special sort of reader to laugh upon encountering a Gruesome quadruple homicide in the first five, yes five pages of a book. And it takes a special sort writer to make that the first of as many laughs as there are deaths in a novel where death is rather more common than usual. Charlie Huston is most assuredly that sort of writer. When his characters are not spraying blood, removing limbs or heads, or torturing someone -- no, scratch that. Even when his characters are doing all of the above, Huston can make you laugh out loud and still love the guy holding the hammer, tongs, gun, knife, stripped-electrical cord or cordless drill. Now that's a special kind of writer and a special kind of writing. Only you will know if you’re that special kind of reader.
'Already Dead' is anything but the title. Outrageously funny, superbly well-written, gripping and even occasionally touching, 'Already Dead' hot-melts gory vampire fiction with noir so hard boiled you could tie it to the feet of someone you really didn't like and watch the bubbles rise from their mouth as they sank beneath the oil-slicked waves of the Hudson River. In case you think there's any Rocket Science going on in this novel, let me disabuse you of that notion. 'Already Dead' is simple, classic but definitely not classy noir fiction. Huston is not reinventing the wheel. The setup is pure simplicity. There are vampires. They get together in Vampire Mafia Gangs, and each of these gangs has a territory and a personality based on whatever badass is running it. Joe Pitt's got no gang, got no loyalties, and he's got a smart potty-mouth to boot. Did I mention boots? I do believe they come into play here, somewhere between the Gruesome quadruple homicide and Joe's assignments to a) Kill the zombie infecting innocent humans before Things Get Exposed and b) find the daughter of a rich guy. You know it ain't gonna be easy, but within a few pages you know it’s going to be one hell of a lot of fun.
Noir lives and dies by the prose. 'Already Dead' lives. Huston's prose kicks ass and makes you laugh out loud, a lot, assuming you can laugh at a Gruesome quadruple homicide. Most readers will finish this book in a day or two, or at least, you'll want to. Huston's a master at using the word "fuck" for humorous effect, to my mind a highly underrated skill in this sordid world. He writes great dialogue, snappy and real enough to make you want to hear it read aloud, even if he does use the borderline-poofy –Here's-the-dialogue method of punctuation. Frankly, it never bothered me, and such affectations are usually quite bothersome, an indication of just how excellent a writer Huston is. Only time will tell if this proves to be a classic, but you won’t really have a chance to care when you read it. Your brain will disappear but not in a cloud of red mist (unless you actually find yourself in a situation out of this book, in which case, I offer my consolations to your heirs). No, Huston's masterful prose will envelop you in the seamy underworld he's created.
Characters here are not unfamiliar to anyone familiar with the noir crime genre. You got your ronin, your solo PI type, that is, and you got your gangland bosses of various stripes. Here's where Huston has a bit of fun, as he envisions a gang of 60's-burnout vampires squabbling about peace and love while ripping off heads and drinking blood from spouting neck stumps. (While that precise scene may not come to pass in this book, you'll feel as if it has.) There are a couple of disposable dames who nonetheless provide some entertaining conversations, and a rather more important love interest who provides some actual emotional grounding that those of us who don’t keep pints of blood in the fridge can identify with. Goons, enforcers and a couple of nearly innocent victims round out the list, and every damn one of 'em seems to shine. Yes, more often than not with hot, wet blood, but, you know, what do you expect? This is New York, after all.
All of these ingredients coagulate around a plot rather thinner than the blood that's both spilled and swilled. But frankly, this rocket moves so fast, you wouldn’t want more to distract you, though the old withdrawal sequence does lag a bit in comparison with the, for example Gruesome quadruple homicide. But then, what wouldn't lag in comparison with a Gruesome quadruple homicide? Huston does hit all the right grace notes, though, rather like a jazz player ripping through a standard. And when I say ripping? Well, you know. Or you should know by now.
If you thought that the vampire genre was already dead, then 'Already Dead' provides plenty of fuckin' evidence that it ain't dead even after someone rips its heart out, cuts off its head, sets the body on fire, then tosses the ashes in a wood chipper. Because given the quantity and the general quality of vampire novels out there, that's pretty much the case. But Charlie Huston proves that talent and a good sense of humor can triumph in any environment, even, in his case, a Gruesome quadruple homicide. Laugh while you can.