Valentino is having a very bad time of it. A police officer by trade in San Francisco, his boss and mentor has disappeared, he’s hunting a trio of twinks wandering the city terrorising it, and his lover has been killed. Oh, and did I mention Valentino is also a 200-year-old gay vampire who drinks blood with vodka?!
Yes, you don’t have to be Stephen Hawking to work out this is no realist novel, but a synthetically surreal universe of faeries (the cmythical creatures not the camp caricatures), ghouls and all kinds of things that go bump in the undead of the night. It’s a world of Buffy The Vampire Gayer, if you will.
Despite being set in the steep-stepped hills of San Fran, this isn’t the familiar sunny, picture postcard place of the travel brochures, but rather a dark and murky netherworld where all is not what it seems.
The novel opens with Valentino searching desperately for his guv’ner, Pogue. With no clues in sight, the case seems cold and then tragedy strikes. Returning home one evening, Valentino watches in horror and disbelief as his lover, Julian, crumbles to dust before his eyes. Sick with grief, anger and revenge, Valentino goes full-throttle to find Julian’s killer and make them pay.
In The Very Bloody Marys, M. Christian has created a wildly weird world of vampiric pains and pleasures yet still manages to somehow root it in reality, largely because he never loses sight of the fact the characters need to have genuinely authentic emotional lives no matter which fantastical environment you plonk them in. He makes them fully-drawn, involving, standalone characters pulsed by the thump of the human heart, which is ironic considering we’re technically dealing with the undead here.
In fact, the whole narrative has flesh and blood as it races along at amphetamine pace. Scene after scene rolls by with such breathtaking speed you feel like you’re on one of those fairground death rides called something hideous like Decapitation or Rigor Mortis. Despite the breakneck paciness, Christian doesn’t lose control of his characters or story; he’s always in command of the reins so the read has a consistent rhythm that nicely carries the action along.
It’s not all bish-bash-bosh, either. Christian can be incredibly lyrical, especially when describing Valentino’s love for Julian. Just look at this description: “Oh oh oh Julian Julian Julian ? beloved, adored, venerated companion, compadre, mate, playmate, partner, betrothed, idol, best friend, love, lover ? oh oh oh Julian Julian Julian.” Don’t you read that and wish someone had written those words about you?
Christian’s métier, though, is conjuring up powerful visuals that give this noir mystery a definite cinematic flavour that’s one part 1940s movie thriller and two parts po-mo sci-fier, which makes the novel ripe for the film adaptation treatment. And, let’s face it, that should bring a gratifying thud of kerching to the ears of any author.
Atmospherically potent and stylishly polished, Christian marries suspense, terror, black humour and romance intelligently and wittily making The Very Bloody Marys a smart and fun addition to the bloodsuckingly camp vampire genre.