Every starts with Joe’s exile in the Bronx, and him dropping in on a post-baseball game exodus, parsing the crowd for Vampyres. He scents one and follows the trail, tracing it to a pack who has just attacked a woman. It’s one of the neatest, heart-breaking series expositions I’ve read; it orients the reader to Joe, the Vampyre life and his moral struggle in an unusual way. Shortly after, he is meeting Esperanza, a tough Puerto Rican and the closest thing they have to a Vampyre boss up there. Or so he thinks, until he runs into a pack again and meets their sadistic maker. What follows was one of those hard scenes that Huston does so well. Creepy, fraught with violence and suspense, and when it finally goes down, it is both better and worse than expected. Huston is very skilled at making me uncomfortable without needing to pile on a load of details; a few carefully chosen words and I cringe.
Manipulations pull him back into the city, as Predo sends him to infiltrate the newest clan, Clan Cure, led by eccentric genius Amanda, now planning to save Vampyres from the virus. From there, he hits up a flophouse, running into Philip, his favorite snitch and crutch. Ah, Phil, a never-ending source of wry addict humor. “Man, this’ll teach me to focus exclusively on the ups. I mean, fuck, I don’t got a single painkiller in here.” The last step in playing the angles is investigating the Coalition’s mysterious blood supply that serves as uneasy lynchpin in the peace between clans. “I didn’t pass math. Shit, I didn’t pass anything. But I can figure that number in my head. Know what that number equals? Equals: Where the fuck do they get it all?
Joe is scrambling in this book, a desperate and subtle manipulation of playing everyone who wants to kill him off each other. He has a cockroach quality, in that almost nothing seems to kill him despite varied and numerous threats. Though he is dispassionate on the surface, he will take revenge. Really, that’s another one of the brilliances of Huston’s writing; how he can imbue a seemingly detached character with emotional complexity. Though he later justifies his actions in terms of Evie, it’s quite clear Joe has another, almost nihilistic ethical sense operating.
Huston’s really hitting his writing stride with this one. I enjoyed the writing as much as the plotting, perhaps even more. I particularly relish when his ‘gangsters’ get a chance to share their stunning and sophisticated philosophies: “It is strange. That causing fear in others can help produce freedom. But it is also true. It clears a path before one. Creates space, a perimeter within which one can operate with abandon. I am not saying that it is true freedom. But it is a start.”
A running metaphor about gravity and orbital bodies lends a sense of inevitability to the arc of Joe’s actions. Evie is the black hole to his trajectory, unavoidable. “The gravity pulling from below Fourteenth doesn’t go away… How you ignore a thing like that is, you move. Create momentum. Build velocity to carry your mass outside the influence of the body pulling at yours.”
Ah, the characterizations. “The man breeds lies. He spawns them asexually, with no need for any assistance. He exhales and lies fill the air… he dreams in lies.”
And the setting: “The bad things about a place like the Whitehouse, listed alphabetically, start somewhere around armed robbery, run past cockroaches and dirty needles, hit their stride with mass murder, start to tail off at rape, and end with a classic: zoophilia.“
Really, I’m impressed at how much Huston accomplishes with his staccato style. Not always a comfortable read, but a decently plotted, characterized one with a surprising sophistication.