Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2007
Del Rey / Random House
US First Edition Trade Paperback
255 Pages; $13.95
Publication Date: 12-26-2006
Date Reviewed: 02-13-2007
Drugs are bad. They make you do bad stuff, like throw people through windows that prove to be made of safety glass. Trouble is, you get tossed against a quality pane of safety glass, you're gonna bounce off it, not break it. And that hurts like hell. Which in turn inspires you to commit violence against the drug-addled maniac who did the tossing. A typical night in a noir novel is what you’re thinking, but in 'No Dominion', the tosser and the tossee are both vampires. Oh, this is still noir, all right. It's just redder and darker than the usual strain.
Charlie Huston's 'Already Dead' was a blood-soaked, hyper-violent ignition point to a projected series of five novels that combine over-the-top violence, language and humor with a gritty noir feel for New York City. Read that book first before you read further in this review, because some what I say might spoil the first book for you. Or ignore my counsel and make my day. Joe Pitt, the anti-hero of these novels, is a ronin vampire, a lone wolf who eschews allegiance to any of the clans who rule the city, but works for them when he needs blood or bucks, which is a lot more often than he likes. Huston's follow-up is just as fast, fun and furious as the first book. He expands Joe's territory and but doesn't change his shtick. We get to see more of the backdrop and more of the city of vampires. But for all the science fiction / supernatural goings-on, the Joe Pitt Casebooks, as Huston calls the series, are proving to be pretty much pure noir with a shooter of blood. Lots of it.
The drug-addled vampire who spazzes out in the opening scene of 'No Dominion' is not the first to do so, nor is he the last. Pitt, like any murderous vampire with a heart of gold, wants to put a stop to this because it might draw attention should the cops be called to the scene and find their bullets have no effect. Doing so will bring him back into contact with Predo, The Coalition, Terry, the Society, Daniel and his creepy band of ascetic vampire monks and a host of new characters and settings. Blood will be spilled with it's not being gulped. Bad things will happen to bad people, good people, vampires of all inclinations and pretty much anyone in the general vicinity of Joe Pitt. But heaven or hell help the man, woman, or vampire who dares to even look the wrong way at his gal, Evie. Evie's got AIDs and thinks she can't sleep with Joe. Joe's a vampire whose Vyrus could eat AIDS for lunch, but he can't bring himself to share that fact with Evie. The upshot is that lots of cuddling gets done, while Joe agonizes about whether or not he should turn Evie. It's a match made in heaven but executed in the hell that's the city of New York.
The Evie-Joe relationship provides a surprisingly effective sympathetic backdrop to Joe's droll recounting of the ceaseless ultra-violence that he finds himself participating in. Sometimes he's a giver and sometimes he's taker. In 'No Dominion', Joe finds himself pitted against Tom, the enforcer for Terry's gang of (as Huston calls them) "hippy vegan vampires" and a fellow who calls himself the Count Dracula. "Seems there's always someone coming down the pike calling themselves The Count, or Vlad, or Vampirella or some shit. Some asshole geeked out on the whole vampire scene and wanting to play the role to the hilt." He'll end up in the Hood, dealing with DJ GraveDigga. Bad things will happen.
Huston handles the series aspects of the Joe Pitt Casebooks effortlessly. He brings back the characters we love and shitcans the ones we love to hate. If you enjoyed the mind-boggling ultra-violence of the first novel, you'll laugh like a motherfucker when you get to the hyper-violent set-pieces of this novel. The "fuck" ratio here is as high as the first novel and it is deployed with the same élan. Huston gets lots mileage out of foul language, but also pops off an equal number of witty one-liners. Like the first novel, 'No Dominion' is pretty much a rocket ride from start to finish.
The second novel in a series has to do a number of things to keep readers coming back for more, and 'No Dominion' does quite well in this regard. The stuff I liked about 'Already Dead' is here in spades. But Huston opens things up enough to provide a though-line for the series and keep readers intrigues as to how Joe's story will play out not just within this novel, but over the series. Huston's peculiar decision to combine super-gritty, hardboiled realism with a supernatural spin is inspired. It gives him reason to spill lots of blood, engage in violence beyond that which one could otherwise portray and provides an overarching mystery that will have readers impatient for the next entry in the series. To certain extent, you have to be a literary vampire to enjoy 'No Dominion'. You have to like blood and lots of it. You have to find the word "fuck" used early and often a potential source of great humor. And you have to like your violence graphic. If you stepped into the river of blood that was 'Already Dead', you probably aren't the same person you were before you made that step and this isn't the same river. But go ahead and take that step. You're likely to hope it's not the last time you come upon these shores.