Bennett & P.N. Elrod: His Father's Son
Not so the intense His Father's Son (the latest collaboration of actor Nigel Bennett and perennial favorite P.N. Elrod) or the thoughtful Dead Until Dark (the first in a new series by mystery writer Charlaine Harris). In their range and depth, these novels amply demonstrate the scope of modern vampire fiction and why this classic monster remains such an effective tool in writers' neverending exploration of what it means to be human.
Richard Dun, hero of His Father's Son and Keeper of the King, once fought at the side of Arthur of Britain. Men knew him then as Lancelot, Arthur's greatest champion. No one knew or cared about his half-life as a vampire. The fact that Richard began his life as Richard d'Orleans the reviled son of Duke Montague d'Orleans mattered even less.
But the terror and brutality of his childhood matters desperately to Richard. Since vampires cannot sire children, Richard cannot heal the pain by fathering and loving children of his own. Instead, he reinvents himself as a defender of the helpless and weak. Which means he cannot turn away when a former lover begs his protection for herself and her family.
Richard arrives too late to save her, but her son Michael -- Richard's godson -- manages to escape, and Richard vows to guard the boy with his life. That promise puts Richard on a collision course with local police and national law enforcement agencies, murderous Colombian drug lords and enemies masquerading as friends. But these threats pale before the resurrected demons of Richard's own past.
His Father's Son delivers rip-roaring, page chewing adventure while plumbing the origins and limits of heroism. From an opening love scene that may singe unwary fingers, the pace ramps slowly, deliberately through the maze of Richard's human and vampiric past, to undead nightmares and the explosive death of his modern lover. After that, give up on the popcorn, because the action runs so hard and fast, you'll forget to chew much less swallow. Before Bennett and Elrod tie up every thread of plot and word of dialogue in a cathartic tidal wave of emotion, justice and salvation, you might even forget to breathe.
Dead Until Dark aims for a smaller but no less satisfying target. Ostracized because of her inconvenient telepathic (dis)abilities, Sookie Stackhouse waits tables in her hometown of Bon Temps, La. The appearance of a vampire in a booth at Merlotte's tavern during Sookie's shift qualifies as the highlight of Sookie's year. Maybe the highlight of her life, because not only does the vampire look like a prince from a Byzantine mosaic, Sookie can't hear his thoughts no matter how hard she tries. Pity that the vampire goes by the most unromantic name of "Bill."
Sookie's Granny doesn't care. She views Bill, who actually fought in The War, as the perfect speaker for the next meeting of the Descendants of the Glorious (Civil War) Dead, and nothing -- not attacks on her granddaughter or the death of a local vampire groupie -- will persuade Gran otherwise. After all, that poor girl's death and several others might not have been caused by Sookie's vampire.
Despite the Descendants' enthusiastic response to Bill, hanging with the Bon Temps vampire proves increasingly dangerous. Vampire drainers want to sell Bill's blood on the black market, and they don't like it when Sookie thwarts them. Bill's friends don't act a heck of a lot friendlier, especially a certain Viking who sees Sookie as a particularly interesting specimen for his human collection.
Meanwhile, the killer of women who like vampires remains at large. One night the killer comes for Sookie and finds her grandmother. Now Sookie must battle her own instincts as well as a mounting body of evidence to clear her loved ones of the crimes -- and stay alive.
By turns hilarious and introspective, Dead Until Dark shines a searchlight on the very human complications of living with legends. Consider the prospect of a vampire shopping at Dillard's for a minute. And are vampires really dead or what, because if they really diedů Eeeeeeww! With the sure touch of a master, Harris mines the mundane to make her unnatural creatures that much more unsettling.
Harris can even make you accept the fact that a telepath might be just slow as the rest of us in spotting a killer. At the same time, she gives her readers one of the choicest cameos on record, and creates a small Louisiana town peopled by quirky, vivid characters readers will want to revisit again and again.
More importantly, like Bennett and Elrod, Harris knows who the real monsters are.
Jean Marie Ward
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