Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Thomas S. Roche Loves The Very Bloody Marys

Thanks so much, Thomas, for this delightful rave (from ErosZine):
With The Very Bloody Marys, prolific writer and editor M. Christian, best known for his vast contribution to the erotica genre, turns his hand to the melding of the classic San Francisco crime-noir thriller (think The Maltese Falcon) and the steamy, sexy vampire-occult tale (think TV shows Angel or the Dresden Files, or Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake series of novels). That it is also an irreverent entry into the San Francisco canon of queer coming of age novels might be unexpected, given that its protagonist is a centuries-old vampire, but that aspect of The Very Bloody Marys is no less satisfying for the main character's age.

The story opens as vampy Valentino wakes up late from his daily nap and prepares to catch hell from his employer, Pogue, who's pretty practiced at giving Valentino hell. Y'see, Val's learning to be a cop, of a kind, part of a cadre of vamps who keep order in each locality, in this case San Francisco. Pogue is the drill-sergeant of vampires, an abusive surrogate father whose brand of tough love evokes in Valentino fear, respect and hatred with equal measure. Seems Valentino's never quite good enough to satisfy Pogue, and that pisses both of them off.

The plot thickens, though, when Valentino shows up at his despised employer's pad to encounter Ombre, a mysterious Gallic figure from a distant vampiric authority. Ombre informs Valentino that something is rotten in Fogtown: a gang of scooter-riding vamps called The Very Bloody Marys have been wreaking havoc in the Castro and throughout the City. Pogue, meanwhile, is nowhere to be found, and Valentino suspects the Marys may be culpable. Indiscriminate slaying of the brand the Marys engage in is exactly what Pogue and Valentino are there to stop -- drain a few too many honeybears and next thing you know, the mortals get their tighty whiteys in a vamp-staking wad.

Ombre seeks Valentino's assurance that things are under control; Valentino gives it to him, but without Pogue he's in way over his head. He goes after the Marys while trying to figure out what happened to his boss; add in a tragic love story involving the love of Valentino's life, and our vampire protagonist has both a complicated puzzle to unravel and an existential dillemma of his own to work on. He does so through the dark alleys of a San Francisco that's queer in more ways than one, a land where the faeries really fly and the twinks' perfect complexions turn way worse than blotchy when they get too much sun.

Christian is known primarily as an erotica writer, or, more accurately, one of the most widely-published authors ever to assault carnal matters. With Marys, however, that fact is evident only in the briskness of his prose and the frankness with which he treats the dark, sleazy side of the city. Far from being an entry in Christian's mind-boggling output of boldly innovative, irreverently nasty erotica, The Very Bloody Marys is a tight genre thriller with a taste for the absurd and a dry wit. But it's also about coming of age; Valentino, as a centuries-old vamp, still has a lot to learn about being a cop, and when confronted with matters of the heart he's as arrested in his development, as vulnerable and at-risk, as any teenager lost in the byways of human relationships.

Equal parts action and introspection, the 171-page thriller cooks along rapidly, following the formulas of the tried-and-true detective novel while at the same time slyly lampooning it. San Franciscans will recognize the details of their city, the smells and sounds of Fogtown after sunset. If you've walked those streets at midnight, you'll recognize them. If you never have, you'll want to book the next flight and maybe bring a cross and some holy water.

Like all the best noir thrillers, Marys is about being apart, alone, isolated; it's about finding a way to bring evil to justice, even if that justice is uglier than the crime; and first and foremost it's about redemption, as Valentino struggles to find his place in the city's nightside and make things right, while keeping his skin.

The Very Bloody Marys is a divine confection with a steaming load of pulpy goodness. It's also got its boots planted firmly in the noir tradition that crosses every sexual boundary in its search for right and wrong. And perhaps most importantly, or most immediately important, it's a deliciously enjoyable addition to three different, and too, too empty, bookshelves: queer vampires, queer noir, and late-night San Francisco adventure.

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