Friday, January 25, 2008

MANITOU BLOOD by Graham Masterton

This review originally went live on SFReader in October 2005. I thought this review rocked when I originally wrote it, but it didn't seem quite as great as I read it this evening. But the book is great. Really.

Graham Masterton revisits his horror roots with his recent novel Manitou Blood. For those of you familiar with Masterton’s work the title will tell you everything you need to know about the story. If you are new to his tales, Manitou Blood brings back two of Masterton’s most beloved characters: Harry Erskine (a fortune-telling skeptic and sometime con-man) as the protagonist; and Misquamacus (a Native American spirit, or manitou, of a shaman wonder-worker determined to push all, except the Native Americans, out of the New World) as the antagonist.

The story begins with Dr. Frank Winter walking to work. On his way Frank notices a young woman mime performing on the street. Her exposed skin is painted silver and she is beautiful in a “waiflike” manner that makes Frank stop and watch. Her performance is amazing. Almost surreal in the way she moves. Frank is awed by the spectacle and confused when a man standing behind him whispers: She’s one of the pale ones, that’s why [she is so convincing]. Frank doesn’t understand the phrase “pale ones,” but he will.

After the mime’s performance Frank approaches her and places a dollar in her silver collection bowl. He congratulates her on a wonderful performance, but before he can leave she begins to vomit blood. The blood is not hers, but rather it belongs to two different people. This is the beginning of what looks like a deadly blood disease. Those who contract it suffer from burning skin and a wet hunger for blood that cannot be quenched. It doesn’t take long for New York City to be inundated with the ill and their victims. The disease spreads so quickly that in less than a week the city is literally a ghost town by day and a howling bin of bloodsuckers by night.

The “vampire” plague is nothing the doctors or authorities can solve. The only man who can stop the destruction is a tarot card dealing, palm-reading fortune-teller named Harry Erskine. Unfortunately he is unable to convince anyone the plague is supernatural. The doctors are searching for a blood disorder, and the authorities quarantine New York City. Harry Erskine is alone, with a little help from unexpected friends, to save the world, again.

Manitou Blood is a mixture of vampire novel, ghost story, end of the world plague tale, and demonic possession all rolled into one unique and exhilarating story. It has all of the elements of a good horror novel: There is an abundant amount of fear, enough suspense to keep the reader turning the pages, a little sex, some humor, a touch of gore and a whole lot of fun. Masterton takes the familiar—the vampire—and adds some interesting and original elements to the mythos, and then he places some harrowing, very frightening Native American legends in the story. The ending is a surprise, and the journey is a romp. Manitou Blood is a banner example of Masterton’s better work: It is quick, well plotted, and definitely not disappointing.

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