The Hang Fire Books Blog

The rantings of a bookdealer in Brooklyn, New York.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Quick Reviews: Something in the Shadows by Vin Packer (Marijane Meaker) and Already Dead by Charlie Huston

I've been on a serious reading tear recently; whittling down my monolithic nightstand pile, advancing through my unread shelves (systematically reading one book from each author A-Z), and playing the interlibrary loan system like a punk.

This is a great feeling. Frequently I stare at my books and feel only bored dissatisfaction (a common complaint for those in my profession) but right now the chemistry is perfect so I'm running with it.

Here are a couple of titles I really enjoyed.

Something in the Shadows by Vin Packer (pseudonym of Marijane Meaker, aka: M. E. Kerr, Ann Aldrich, et al)

SITS is a quirky, early-60s, horrors-of-suburbia novel about a mismatched couple whose marriage is disintegrating. The wife is in advertising and brings her work and extramarital flirtations home with her; the husband is a curmudgeonly folklorist who wants nothing to do with people and whose affection is completely focused on his cat.

When said cat is killed by a stranger in what seems like an entirely gratuitous act of cruelty, the husband embarks on vicious and asymmetrical revenge plot.

Despite their differing personalities, Meaker convinces the reader of this couple's one-time connection that has faded to habit. The drunken advertising brainstorm sessions are bitterly funny and the husband's alienation from his wife's world is palpable. The characters are all subtly developed through their relationships--kindnesses and cruelties--with animals and the line between wild and domestic, hunter and prey is aptly explored.

Great stuff. Reminiscent of Patricia Highsmith and Richard Yates.

A couple of in-jokes/references: The couple's last name is "Meaker" (of course the actual name of the author) and the husband describes his wife as a Jane Greer lookalike (who starred in the classic film noir Out of the Past). This is the same actress that the doomed mother in Meaker's earlier The Evil Friendship (reviewed here) is mentioned as resembling. Not sure the significance of that. Maybe the author just has a thing for Jane Greer.

In this she is not alone.

Next up is Already Dead by Charlie Huston

This is the first book in a noir/horror series starring the mostly-dead PI, Joe Pitt. Pitt is infected with a virus that will eat him from the inside out and drive him insane unless he consumes human blood on a fairly regular basis. Lots folks in Manhattan suffer from this virus and they've divided into gangs and societies (more or less along Manhattans standard socio-economic lines) to fight for control of territory. There are vamps in Brooklyn and Staten Island as well but they're f***king barbarians.

Pitt is a rogue Op in this particularly Red Harvest and he's out to find the missing daughter of an amoral power broker who was last seen running with a goth zombie.

Huston balances the needs of the genres skillfully. Vampirism works well as a noir trope--fitting right in with the slipped mickeys and saps to the skull--and Already Dead pulls off what Joss Whedon's Angel tried-for (but frequently failed at for lack of cojones). Also he makes one zombie into a sad, tragic, (and kind of sexy) femme fatal. No mean feat.

I'm excited to read the two follow-ups: No Dominion, and Half the Blood of Brooklyn.


Rachel Jagareski, Old Saratoga Books said...

Your Vin Packer paperback is even cooler because it's got a Leo and Diane Dillon cover. They won the Caldecott medal at least once for their great children's book illustrations and did a lot of vintage paperback covers.

William Smith said...

Good eye! That is a striking cover. I like the way the stark silhouettes are tied together with small patches of color. I not very familiar with their work, I'll keep my eyes peeled.