Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Death to the Vampire!

Just last week, fellow blogger TomCat took a look at Mike Resnick’s Stalking the Dragon, a parody of hardboiled detective stories with a simple premise at heart: the story, while told in a hardboiled style, took place in a parallel universe with goblins, leprechauns, dragons, and the like walking down the same streets as the private eye, John Justice Mallory. And I instantly resolved to read one of these books in the near future (especially seeing what time of year this is). Well, that day is today, and the book in question is Resnick’s Stalking the Vampire.

It’s Halloween, and detective John Justice Mallory notices that his partner, Winifred Carruthers, seems unusually pale. That’s when he notices the bite-marks on her neck, and he quickly deduces that they were inflicted by her nephew Rupert, who has come over for a visit to his aunt. Well, it’s true: on the boat over to New York, Rupert was bitten by a vampire named Aristotle Draconis, and now Mallory has to figure out how to protect Winifred from her nephew. But then Rupert disappears, and is later found murdered outside Winifred’s apartment. Is Draconis responsible? And if not him, who?

Along the way, Mallory teams up with a vampire named Bats McGuire and a dragon who writes hardboiled detective stories: Scaly Jim Chandler. Plenty of other supernatural beings make appearances throughout the book—Mallory’s cat-girl named Felina, some leprechauns, goblins who keep trying to sell merchandise, several vampires, zombies, the most powerful demon on the East Coast, and more! Imagine, if you will, an alternate universe where Casablanca was made with Ronald Reagan in Bogie’s role, and where attendants at funeral homes assure the mourners that death is not necessarily a permanent condition.

That’s the kind of story you get from Mike Resnick: an entertaining, oftentimes very funny parody with its tongue very firmly in cheek. The whole thing is an uproarious delight, even though you pretty much know whodunit midway through and it becomes a question of how to track down the culprit. (The solution to that problem is clever, and based on facts on vampires that were clearly established, so it isn’t a random everybody-knows-vampires-love-cheese moment or anything of the sort.) After the book, we get a few appendices, including a lecture on how to hunt vampires, another lecture on the popular misconceptions around vampires, and an excerpt from Scaly Jim Chandler’s Stalking the Vampire, the book based on the events of this novel. This last part is particularly funny, where the hardboiled gumshoe sleeps with every dame, gets knocked on the head several times, and casually shrugs off bullet wounds— this naturally gives the whole thing an appearance of realism and grittiness. It’s a neat little riff at the stylistic choices of the hardboiled school of writing, but it isn’t a parody of Raymond Chandler—it was made clear in the book that “the other Chandler” is a whole other person.

Although I can’t exactly call Stalking the Vampire an example of fair-play detective fiction, it’s plenty of fun for detective fiction fans. It’s an effective parody, taking cracks at everything from Twilight to lawyers. And it’s genuinely fun to read. Resnick seems to be enjoying this crazy game he’s invented, and I couldn’t help but be swept up by the fun of it all.

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