Go to Homepage   P. N. Elrod: The Dark Sleep

 

Ace Books (Hardcover), ISBN 0441005918
Don't even try judging The Dark Sleep, the latest installment of P. N. Elrod's Vampire Files, by its cover. The tommy gun casually flung against night-shadowed cobblestones and bloody, man-shaped fog evoke images of The Untouchables and Dashiell Hammett's Red Harvest.  

But The Dark Sleep reads more like Hammett's corrosively effervescent adventures of Nick and Nora Charles. Bright dialogue, flamboyant characters and everyday absurdity coexist with intense personal tragedy. And like Hammett, Elrod milks the irony for all it's worth. 

Charles Escott's latest assignment for vampire detective Jack Fleming should've been a piece of the kind of cake Jack no longer eats. A cracker heiress wants Escott to retrieve some important papers from the foreman of her father's plant. But the first meeting between the principals goes awry when the heiress goes ballistic and the foreman levels Jack with a lucky punch. 

Jack and Charles thought the contested documents were love letters, but events force them to consider more sinister possibilities. Jack uncovers the foreman's links to a hard-drinking group of malcontents that meet every week at a seedy bar called Moe's. Visions of Bolsheviks dance in Jack's head, and soon he finds himself staring down the barrel of the foreman's gun. 

Jack can survive a bullet, no matter how much it hurts, but the same cannot be said for Charles. Are the increasingly deadly attacks on Charles related to his current case, or is Jack the target? Radio personality Archie Grant wants a piece of Jack's girlfriend. Secure in his mob connections, why should Archie let anything or anyone stand in his way? 

In contrast to A Chill in the Blood, the last entry in the Vampire Files, you don't need to tally the murders in the margins, but you won't be tempted to put The Dark Sleep down. Elrod keeps the story moving at a good clip, expertly leading the reader down the garden path to a bloody, emotional climax that that both surprises and satisfies. 

Elrod plants enough detail along the way to prevent new readers from feeling lost without sacrificing intimacy or telegraphing her punches. Veteran readers will delight in their favorite characters' star turns. Jack gets lucky and learns to love mirrors all over again -- or should that be "learns to love all over mirrors?" Never mind, you'll love the scene. 

Elrod also indulges in her not-so-secret passion for "casting" actors and other mostly real people as characters in her books. In addition to the leads identified in last year's Crescent Blues interview, The Dark Sleep features Forever Knight alumni John Kapelos and Nigel Bennett (Elrod's partner in the Richard Dunn series), and Jim Byrnes of Highlander. Those familiar with the TV series will treasure the characterizations. You can hear the actors' voices in each of their respective lines. But you don't need to. The Dark Sleep, like its undead hero, has a life of its own. 

Jean Marie Ward

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