Already Dead is the story of Manhattan P.I. Joe Pitt. He is tough, violent, and cynical. Or in other words, he is a study of the classical hardboiled loner private eye, with one catch: he is a vampire. In Charlie Huston's third novel he makes the transition from hard-boiled suspense to hard-boiled horror look simple.
Huston takes the familiar, Manhattan, and creates an underworld of undead. They live, breathe, work, and basically do their best to survive without bringing undue attention to themselves. They are infected with a rare blood virus. A virus that animates them, slows their aging process, increases their strength, improves their eyesight, and essentially makes them into creatures of the night. This however is where the generic vampire mythology ends, and Huston's underground world of the undead begins. Crosses are no bother, holy water is just water, garlic is um, garlic, and they have no problem combing their hair or applying makeup while looking in a mirror. Their only real problems are, they need uninfected human blood to survive; sunlight causes skin tumors to grow at grossly accelerated rates; and politics.
The politics are what makes Pitt's world a less than desirable place. The vampires associate in clans: The Coalition, The Society, and Enclave are the big ones, and their major goal is to keep the disease a secret from the masses. Their second goal is to put the other clans out of business, and Joe Pitt, being a free agent, is caught square in the middle.
The plot reads like standard detective fare: Pitt is hired by a beautiful, seductive woman to find her runaway daughter. The Coalition squeezes him to find and dispose of the "carrier" that is spreading zombie bacterium around the city, and The Society wants to know exactly what errands Pitt is running for the Coalition, and why; while the supernatural cult-like Enclave gives Pitt a little surprise of their own. Pitt is caught in a battle of power, vice, politics and downright evil. Before the final page is turned, his life, the life of his client, and the tenuous peace of the vampire clans will all be in jeopardy. Not to mention his girlfriend--his very human girlfriend--will require some damn good explanations for everything that is happening in Pitt's world.
Already Dead is an original take on the vampire story. The prose is hardboiled and tough. Joe Pitt, the tough guy anti-hero, is a mixture of fabled private dicks Travis McGee and Mike Hammer. He is hard and violent like Hammer, but Huston adds a dash of McGee--an uncanny understanding and humanist philosophy of his condition--to keep Pitt likable and believable.
Already Dead will appeal to fans of the vampire genre, crime and detective fiction, noir, straight horror, dark fantasy and even television's Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
This review originally appeared at SFReader 21-Sep-2006.