Alex Bledsoe,
Blood Groove
(Tor, 2009)

Baron Rudolfo Zginski was a vampire of the old school, a powerful, Eastern European bloodsucker who was finally revealed and staked in a small Welsh village in 1915. Sixty years later, the stake is removed by a medical examiner in a Memphis, Tenn., and Zginski rises once more.

But the United States in 1975 is nothing like the world Zginski remembers. The few vampires he finds in the city are timid, filthy beasts who know little of their true power. And the public perception of vampires seems to be reflected in the contemporary blaxploitation film, Blacula, which Zginski watches with the single-minded fascination of a person who has never before seen anything like it.

Despite the almost giddy humor of that scene, Blood Groove is not a comedy. In fact, it is one of the more serious-minded, horror-driven vampire tales I've read in some time -- which is, actually, somewhat refreshing at a time when most vampire novels are thinly disguised young-adult romances. These vampires are protagonists, but not heroes -- and romance is not a factor in their lust for sex and blood. The humans they encounter are food or, in rare cases, useful resources to draw on -- but, let's face it, you probably shouldn't get too attached to many of the mortals you encounter in this book.

Readers need also be aware that Memphis in 1975 wasn't a place where women or blacks were well regarded, and author Alex Bledsoe (whose previous novel, The Sword-Edged Blonde, is a high-fantasy mystery) doesn't pull any punches in the way they are treated or the hate-filled and slanderous language of the time. Add an aristocratic vampire into the mix, and you can just imagine the slurs that fly. It is entirely realistic ... and yet, can be extremely uncomfortable to read. So, too, is the cliched but authentic "jive talk" of the black characters.

But the strength of Blood Groove is largely the interaction between the classic, seductive Zginski and the seedy lot of '75. The mystery of a strange gray powder that can kill vampires is almost extraneous to the heart of the story -- until the end, that is, when it becomes vitally important. Danielle Roseberry, a deputy coroner who becomes involved in the story, is a strong female character caught in an overwhelming situation; readers will find themselves rooting for her no matter how hopeless her circumstances become.

This is a good novel, and vampire enthusiasts will probably love it. Fair warning, though: if you're anything like me, you will truly hate the very last page.

review by
Tom Knapp

14 November 2009

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