Thursday, 19 May 2011

’13 Bullets’ – David Wellington (Piatkus)

Vampires these days just aren’t what they used to be. I don’t know, maybe I’m reading the wrong books but it seems like the bloodthirsty killing machines of old have been replaced with a softer ‘vampire lite’ version that exists merely to bemoan its own existence in a series of angst ridden conversations with the girl it loves but can never have (unless you’re a vampire written by either Meyer or Hamilton in which case anything goes). It’s kind of sad to see the once proud ‘apex predator’ of the undead brought so low, isn’t it? As a result, you won’t see an awful lot about vampires here; only if they’re the truly evil kind.

There are books out there that give us the ‘real deal’ in terms of vampires and it’s my job here to showcase these books and show you guys what vampires are really all about. I’d read David Wellington’s ‘Monster Island’ (way back in the days when the blog was practically brand new) and the style he employed there gave me a pretty clear indication that his take on vampires needed to be picked up and read.
Wellington’s vampires are as bloody and animalistic as all good vampires should be and give us one wild ride of a story. It’s just a shame that the plot itself doesn’t live up to what his vampiric creation initially promises ...

All the official reports say that vampires have been extinct since the late eighties when Federal Agent Arkeley took out the last one in a fight that nearly killed him. Arkeley knows better though; there is one vampire left, imprisoned but none the less deadly as she plots and bides her time in an abandoned asylum.
State Trooper Laura Caxton has a case on her hands, that hints at vampire involvement, and only Arkeley can help her (even though she quickly comes to want nothing to do with him. Caxton is out of her league here and woefully unprepared for the rigours of a case involving vampires and their undead thralls. What Caxton is even less prepared for though is the feeling that the vampires want more from her than merely her corpse standing between them and the law. It was just chance that led to things originally happening when Caxton was on patrol... wasn’t it?

Go to your drinks cabinet, grab a bottle of whisky and take a big old gulp from the bottle and see what happens next. If you don’t have a bottle of whisky to hand go to your local supermarket and ask for the hottest chilli that they sell. Once you’ve paid for it, take a massive bite...
Either of these things is the equivalent of reading ’13 Bullets’; a book that will quite literally blow the top of your head off from the very first pages and then proceed to merrily tap dance on what’s left of your skull.

There is no doubt that ’13 Bullets’ is one hell of a ride with Wellington throwing everything but the kitchen sink at Arkeley and Caxton and seeing what happens next. Caxton is out of her depth and totally new to this situation while Arkeley carries deep scars from years of fighting vampires. Arkeley is too set in his ways to develop much if at all; it’s only at the very end that we get to see a chink in his armour and get the briefest glimpse of what he’s really all about. Caxton is the more interesting of the two to follow as everything happening is brand new to her and she can’t help but react to it. With this character you get a real sense of the journey that she makes from start to finish.

Wellington’s vampires are vicious animals eager for that next hit of blood and with enough cunning to make it happen on an all too regular basis. Wellington captures the essence of these creatures with clever use of drawn moments of tension quickly followed by a short and intense burst of action. Everything flows smoothly and there are more than a few moments that make you jump (even though you know what’s coming, just like any good horror film). Wellington also shows a keen eye for spectacle and how to make the best use of it. Whether it’s a vampire being taken down by the Feds, breaking a siege or a manic chase through woods into a cemetery; Wellington has it all covered and has no trouble getting his readers right into the heart of what’s happening. This high octane read packs an awesome punch as a result and I wouldn’t be surprised if Wellington had one eye on the film version as he was writing this. I could see it working very well indeed.

So what’s the problem then? I mentioned right at the start that I didn’t think the plot lived up to the spectacle and this creates a discord that the novel can’t really shake off. Sometimes the pace of what’s happening is literally so fast that I don’t think the plot is able to keep up and gets lost as a result. There’s so much going on (and it’s all good) that it eventually degenerates into one set piece following another with the plot taking a back seat as an afterthought. This left me wondering just exactly how the revelation at the end actually tied together and I also wouldn’t have minded slowing things down a bit and taking a look at some of the other characters that make up this world (I’m thinking about the guy who skins ghosts). Maybe in another book...

When the plot does kick in things are signposted a little too clearly for anyone who wants to take some time and guess what is going to happen next. Maybe ’13 Bullets’ is just that kind of book but certain events were signposted too clearly for me. I like action but I also like to think about what’s coming up and there was no need for that here. The energy of the book carries you past this but it does leave you feeling a little hollow by the end.

’13 Bullets’ scores highly here for its sheer exuberance and willingness to smack its reader in the face with a strong dose of brutal action. This comes at the expense of the plot though and while ’13 Bullets’ makes for a thoroughly entertaining commuter read, it’s not going to be any more than that.

Eight and a Half out of Ten

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