13 Bullets: A Vampire Tale

13 Bullets: A Vampire Tale - David Wellington I started the first 20% 13 Bullets a few weeks ago but had to put it down for a while. I picked it back up and finished it in a couple of hours. It's a great horror/thriller in the classic "old warrior/new recruit" vein.

Special Agent Jameson Arkeley (shades of Arkham Asylum show up all over this book, and not just in the alliterative sense) is America's foremost expert on the discovery and eradication of vampires. The vampires in this story are not the classically romantic, emo twinged rockstars of the Anne Rice vein, nor are they ageless humans with a penchant for drama and blood like the traditional Stoker types. Wellington's vampires are former humans, infected with "pure evil" turning them into malignancies that make them more demonic than human. They are immensely strong, ugly, sensitive to light and have rudimentary but effective psionic powers. These vampires are to normal humans what cats must seem like to mice - utterly effective predators against which luck and good timing are your best defenses.

Fortunately for humans, in this fictional world they are not common. According to Arkeley, there are only a handful of vampires on the planet at a time, and most of them are in a blood deprived comatose state trying to lure weak willed humans into bringing them more blood. The few active vampires are descending down a path that starts at wanton bloodlust and inevitably leads to a complete breakdown of the willingness or ability to function with humans. The vampires use their psionic abilities to control thralls, humans that are only partially transformed, to interact with humans and assist with their procurement of meals.

Arkeley tells most of this to his protoge, Pennsylvania State Trooper Laura Caxton, at the beginning of the book. While this book does not read like a mystery, there are many layers to the story and they are not all apparent until the final pages. For reasons not immediately understood to her or the reader, James takes her under his wing and uses the weight of his badge to have her assigned as his special assistant for the duration of the investigation of a new outbreak of vampiric killings in contemporary Pennsylvania.

There's nothing terribly remarkable about the story - it follows a tried and true arc - but I will give David Wellington huge kudos for hiding the final twist from me - I pride myself on being able to suss out the "surprise" in horror stories, but I was genuinely surprised at the turn this story took, and I wholeheartedly approve. Throughout the story there is a palpable sense of fear and oppressive stress; Laura always feels like a mouse trying to cross an open room, knowing there are cats on the prowl looking for her. Nowhere is safe, and every moment Laura and James expect to receive bulletins on their phones advising them of another grisly slaughter they weren't able to prevent - or predict.

The characters are multidimensional and relatable, even if they are stuck in roles I've seen a million times before. James is the gruff, aging, world weary "job before family" cop obsessed with his vendetta against the one that got away. Laura Caxton is the dedicated, smart, tougher than she thinks she is, wants to do good but inexperienced junior partner. Laura's partner is the slacker who can't help but be the crack in the armor James and Laura try to put up around their lives. More huge kudos to David for showing a non-straight couple in an unprurient, mature and realistic manner. The world needs more books where couples can just be couples without the nature of their genitals being the object of special attention.

The strength of this book is in the action. The fight scenes are well thought out, plausible, fast moving and really take this book from the ranks of "good horror" into the realm of "definitely should be read by any fan of the genre". Even the scenes that aren't violent use dialogue and especially action to very good effect; I read the whole book with a sense of urgent immediacy. I think fans of the thriller and action/adventure genres would enjoy reading this book as well, though the supernatural nature of the vampires may be a bit offputting to readers who like a material basis for all their plot complications. The horror isn't especially explicit, but David does an excellent job of involving each of the reader's senses into the picture, forcing the reader's imagination to make the broadly drawn pictures of death, dismemberment and decay seem more vivid than the mere words on the page would indicate.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and I recommend it to any horror or action/thriller fan. It's a quick read, but the unique angle on the vampire myth and some of the action sequences will stay with me for quite a while. I am looking forward to reading the rest of the series.