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‘Not only have you quit the I.S., but you’re baiting them. You went shopping. You broke into their records vault to shred your file. Locking a runner unconscious in his own car?’ he said with a carefully cultivated laugh. ‘I like that. But even better is your quest to improve yourself. I applauded your drive to expand your horizons, learn new skills. The willingness to explore options most shun is a mind-set I strive to instill in my employees. Though reading that book on the bus shows a certain lack of…judgement.’ A sliver of dark humour showed behind his eyes. ‘Unless your interest in vampires has an earthier source, Ms. Morgan?’

Over a year ago a friend of mine back in Ireland recommended I check this book out. I have had my eye out for it, but for some reason could never find the first book in the series. My library did have copies of the later books, but once again, no first book. Last Thursday I finally cracked and bought myself a copy from Dymocks.

After all it is Halloween and I was hoping to have a variety of horror novels ready for the blog.

Rachel Morgan is a witchfinder who is pretty witchy herself. Preferring to practice white magic only, she has made a living working for the Inderland Runner Services, or the I.S. an organization with the oversight of society’s more supernatural citizens. Until she quit. Now her former employers want her dead, she’s on the trail of a conspiracy that might save her neck, but her vampire flatmate has her eyes on that too.

See in this world humanity focused its scientific advances on biology instead of the space race. A pharmaceutical Cold War resulted in a horrific pandemic that wiped out large numbers of the planet’s population, inadvertently revealing the presence of vampires, witches and the were-kind hidden within society. For when civilization was brought to the brink it was they, known collectively as Inderlanders, who protected it from complete collapse. An uneasy truce was declared between them and the humans they regard as their food (or in the case of black witches, their potion ingredients) with laws drawn up to police relations between the competing groups.

As a former employee of the I.S. Rachel is privy to a lot of sensitive information that she will not be able to live long knowing, unless she can cut herself a deal with the forces behind her own death warrant. Striking out on her own she finds surprising allies in the half vampire Ivy and the truculent pixie Jenks. With a little bit of luck and some inventive potions, maybe she will last until the end of the week.

I had a lot of fun with this book. First of all Harrison dispenses with the worldbuilding early on. Yes vampires, werewolves, pixies and fairies are all real. Humans have embraced undead culture and there are guidebooks on how to satisfy your vampire lover. Once that is established the plot kicks in with Rachel evading several assassination attempts while on the hunt for leads to expose a conspiracy involving the drug trade.

As this is the first book in a series we also get to know a carefully selected cast of characters. The uneasy relationship between Ivy and Rachel is played mostly for laughs, with the frazzled witch unknowingly dropping hints that she would like to be bitten, despite loudly insisting she does not. Harrison treats the subject of vampire sex with far better humour than Charlaine Harris’ explicit bedroom antics in the Sookie Stackhouse series.

Then there is an impromptu driving lesson courtesy of a pixie and a sequence involving animal shapeshifting that reminded me of Roald Dahl’s The Witches. In all this is great fun, with some gripping action and a nice line in heroic quipping. There is even an encounter with a demon that was sufficiently scary for the book to meet my Halloween chill factor quota.

Looks like I have another series for me to hunt down.

I blow some smoke at the ceiling

-I feel like I’m forgetting something. Vyrus. Clans. Zombies. Stay out of the sun. Don’t get shot. Abandon your life. Drink blood to survive.

I shake my head.

-No. Guess that pretty much covers it.

See I have some problems in reviewing this book. First off, it’s the fourth in a series called The Joe Pitt Casebooks by Charlie Huston. So I can’t really give away any of the specifics of the plot that might spoil readers who go on to check the series out. And you should check these books out. Secondly, as is abundantly clear by now, I’m a fan. I didn’t just read this book, I gobbled it down and asked for seconds. Sadly my library does not have the next title in the sequence – My Dead Body – so I have to be patient and hope this latest cliff-hanger doesn’t drive me nuts before I get my hands on the concluding story.

Charlie Huston is well-known for his crime fiction, such as Caught Stealing and has just had his novel The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death optioned for HBO by Alan Ball. Yes the guy behind True Blood, which is ironic, given that The Joe Pitt Casebooks are about a vampire gang-banger in Manhattan, trying to carve out a life for himself while eluding the machinations of the competing ‘Clans’, who control the island itself. Huston plays to his strengths here, with Joe being a down on his luck thug for hire who just happens to be a vampire. Occasionally he would do a job from one of the big Clans, which allows him to operate on their territory. Huston introduces further tropes from noir fiction with The Coalition, the biggest clan, resembling smart-suited Mafioso’s. Then there’s The Society, a bunch of anarchists led by Terry Bird who speaks in mixed metaphors and harps on about revolution, Charles Manson-style. There’s the Enclave, religious fundamentalists– yes, we have undead mujahideen here too. Finally there’s the Hood, a vampire street gang not too fond of white folks.

It’s an interesting mix of traditional vampire themes and modern fictional tropes. Joe Pitt himself is your typical antihero, capable of being quite cruel at times, but also possessing a code of sorts that allows you to root for him. As an independent ‘rogue’, owing fealty to none of the Clans, his position on Manhattan Island has always been tenuous. He’s always been a bit like Clint Eastwood’s stranger from A Fistful of Dollars, playing the Clans off against one another to buy himself more time. Half the Blood in Brooklyn brought matters to a head and this book deals with the fall-out.

Joe’s been living in exile for over a year in the Bronx, trying not to draw any attention to himself now that he’s burned his bridges with the Clans. Finally an opportunity arrives to return across the water. Joe’s got unfinished business in Manhattan. There’s Amanda Horde for one, the billionaire heiress he met during the events of Already Dead. She’s a human who knows all about vampires, with money enough to do something about it. She makes the Clans nervous and given her friendly disposition to Joe, he’s asked to find out what exactly she is planning. Then there’s the bounty on Joe’s head that he needs to clear and the possibility of all-out Clan war. Most of all, he’s heading back to Manhattan to find the girl he left behind a year ago. The girl he loves whose life he saved and who may just kill him for it.

Huston’s increasing the pace of the action with each book in the series and I cannot wait to see what he has in store for his grand finale. For the most part these have been books set in the familiar world of noir fiction, despite Joe’s unusual abilities. However, in Every Last Drop Huston introduces a vision of absolute horror that disturbs as much as it frightens. There’s a sense that he’s taking the gloves off, having established enough of the world in the previous novels to now smash it to pieces.

Smart, brutal and inventive, with foul-mouthed dialogue to die for.

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