The Lesser Dead by Christopher Buehlman (Berkley, Oct. 7th, 2014)-I know what you’re thinking (or might be thinking): ugh, vampires, soooo done to death (sorry about that). But bear with me, here. We’re talking about Christopher Buehlman, author of Those Across the River, The Necromancer’s House, and Between Two Fires. This man has a very solid history of excellence, so when I saw that The Lesser Dead was a vampire tale, I didn’t hesitate for even a second.
Joey Peacock looks eternally 14, but is actually in his 50s in 1978 New York City. He is, of course, also a vampire. He’s more than a bit cocky, considers himself a ladies man, and loves to look sharp. Well, as sharp as one can possibly look when their home is in the tunnels that run under the city. That’s ok, though, because Joey can glamour a victim in the blink of an eye. He has a family, of sorts, consisting mainly of Margaret (their tough as nails leader), and the elderly Cvetko, who harbors a fatherly affection for Joey. There are others, but they play the biggest parts in Joey’s life (or undeath). By 1978, Joey has fallen into a bit of a routine, and even has a family (mom, dad, son) that he regularly charms and feeds from. It may not be the ideal life, but it’s all he has, and if a bit of ennui has set in, well…that’s about to change. Margaret’s group has always been fairly careful to avoid killing their victims (which they call “peeling”), mainly to keep the cops off their scent as opposed to any real sense of moral responsibility. However, when they discover a feral pack of child vampires that not only kill, but play with their victims like a cat plays with a mouse, they must decide what to do about this very serious problem.
The first half of the book mainly covers Joey’s history with the vamps; how he got turned, the events leading up to that, and a rundown of vamp politics and the occasional turf skirmishes that Margaret takes care of with her signature ruthlessness. Joey’s narration is pragmatic and more than a hint of the 14 year old boy that he once was shines through. Frankly, he’s a bit of a twerp, and very frequently uses his innocent looks (and a high pitched voice) to get what he wants. But…give Joey a chance. Trust me on this one. When he meets the little vamps, he’s actually pretty horrified at what they’ve done, and what they do (it’s really, REALLY icky) but they tell a compelling, and even tragic story, and Joey’s protective side begins to emerge. Margaret isn’t as easily convinced, and she’s determined to get rid of them before they call unwanted attention to the underground colony.
These kids are fantastically creepy, especially the lone female, and if you think Margaret and Co. can be vicious, you ain’t seen nothing yet. There are absolutely no sparkly vamps here, and underneath Joey’s veneer of swagger, there’s a thread of melancholy that’s unmistakable. This book surprised the hell out of me-not at how good it was, because it’s very, very good. That wasn’t surprising at all. I was shocked at how attached I actually got to Joey, and how he managed to make me care about Margaret and the rest of his vamps (she was human too, once, and her story is heartbreaking.) Speaking of heartbreaking, I was blown away at how arresting this book, and these characters are, and how I never could have seen it coming. I’m not going to tell you what “it” is, but suffice it to say it will wow you, I hope, because it certainly wowed me. Buehlman is a master, and his lovely writing only underscores the brutality, and sometimes futility and sadness of these vamps’ lives. They really are doing the best they can with what they are. Think of that what you will, but don’t miss this book. The Lesser Dead is shades of The Lost Boys and Near Dark wrapped up in Buehlman’s very distinctive, very unique touch, and it’s fantastic. This man can’t write ‘em fast enough for me, and I can’t wait to see what he’s got up his sleeve next!