Skarlet by Thomas Emson
Publisher: St. Martins Press/Oct. 2nd, 2012
Kind thanks to St. Martins Press for providing a review copy
Fear grips London as dozens of people die after taking a sinister new drug called Skarlet. But that’s only the beginning. Forty-eight hours later, the dead partiers wake up and begin butchering the living for their blood. Soon, London gives a name to its terror: Vampires.
Jake Lawton, bitter and betrayed after the Iraq War, finds himself fighting another battle – against the growing army of immortal hunters and their human cohorts. Lawton joins forces with the journalist who brought about his downfall and the dealer tricked into distributing the drug. Together they take on the spineless authorities, the ruthless cohorts, and the hungry dead. But the vampire plague unleashed in London is nothing to what lurks beneath the streets. Waiting to be fed …Waiting to be resurrected …Waiting to reign again over a city of human slaves.
Jake Lawton, back home in England in ’08, 2 years after fighting in the Iraq War, is passing the time (and collecting a regular paycheck) as a doorman at a nightclub called Religion. On a night when the “vampires” come out in force, goths and sanguinarians (blood drinkers) alike, he’s frustrated that the club manager has let a known drug dealer back into the club after being banned for life. There’s really nothing Jake can do, but he’s determined to keep a close eye on the guy, just in case. Later that night, when club goers begin coughing up blood and dying on the dance floor, Jake is horrified. Soon, people are being attacked in the streets, their throats ripped out or turned into ravening killers themselves. Could this be a dangerous new drug, or something even more diabolical.
Skarlet is the first book in a new vampire series, and if you’re looking for vamps that don’t sparkle (or smell particularly good), Skarlet is the book for you. Vampire fiction has grown stale for me in recent years, but Skarlet takes the spitfire format of Jonathan Maberry’s Joe Ledger series (short, pulse pounding chapters), a historical thread going all the way back to ancient Babylon, and of course, blood drinking baddies, and packages it into a compelling, fast moving horror/thriller.
Jake Lawton is my kind of hero (surly, rough around the edges, good at the core), and I loved the London setting. I found myself picturing 28 Days Later frequently, except with vampires instead of zombies. The vampires are bad enough, but they’re really just pawns for a creepy brother/sister duo bent on resurrecting an unholy vampiric trinity of terror. Seriously, cruel, weird, and creepy really don’t begin to describe these two. However, the author gave them a history too, and it’s a tragic one, to be sure. Jake Lawton has a bit of a shady past from his tour in Iraq, and the very reporter, Christine Murray, that nearly ruined his life ends up teaming up with him to stop the vampire menace. Christine begins the story as your typical, annoying reporter, but as you learn more about her, and the shambles her family is in because of her career, she becomes more of a sympathetic character. Dr. Melissa Rae (Sassie) whose specialty is classical archaeology, provides a potential love interest for Jake, but I honestly found her a bit distracting, and not in a good way. Her knee-jerk judgment of Jake’s time in Iraq grated on me right off the bat, so she and I got off on the wrong foot at the get go. She’s a small quibble though, and horror/thriller fans should enjoy this creepy, roller coaster ride through a terrifying London vampire apocalypse, and you’ll have a bloody good time.