Richard W. Kelly,
(Outskirts, 2010)

Thomas is a young man who could be a poster child for underachievers. He lives in a drab apartment in a bad part of town. He has few friends, he stopped his education after high school despite being bright and he has had no lasting relationships. Thomas's family loves him, but he knows they are disappointed in him. He works as the night clerk at a gas station, and he carries an unregistered handgun for protection. It gives him a sense of security, but he is unsure if he could use it.

When two armed robbers come into the gas station, they all find out whether Thomas can use that gun. The result: two dead robbers, but Thomas knocked almost unconscious after one of the robbers pistol-whips him. Thomas is barely conscious, knows he is badly injured and fears he will bleed to death.

After a while, Thomas realizes he will not die. He is actually feeling better, and has stopped bleeding. When he notices that he has also stopped breathing, he is confused. Is he dead? Is this the afterlife? He gets up and starts wandering the streets. Everything looks just like it should. He goes into a late-night fast-food place, but the food has no appeal whatsoever.

Over time, Thomas pieces it together and faces the daunting conclusion that he has become a vampire. Sunlight is painful to him, and he finds refuge sleeping in the basement of a small church run by Father Timeus. The priest is wary of the strange young man right from the start, but Thomas needs help and Father Timeus knows the church is there for the downtrodden.

Thomas, after finally succumbing to his overpowering hunger, kills and drains the blood of a homeless man. He is horrified. However, he eventually comes to terms with his need for blood by choosing only victims who are thieves, and he sees himself as saved by God to go on a divine quest to enforce the Eighth Commandment.

Three more characters enter the story: Jack, Lilith and the father of all vampires, the first of their kind. Jack is the vampire who mistakenly made Thomas into one. Lilith is the other person who takes refuge in the old church, as she cannot find peace after a terrible tragedy for which she takes responsibility. I will not disclose the identity of the original vampire, as his story, his rule over all vampires and the eventual battle between him and the other there is shocking and too much detail here would spoil part of the story.

This is the debut novel by Richard W. Kelly, and the writing is very good for a first effort. The pace is fast, the characters are well-developed, the word usage is very good and the plot is complex enough to be engaging without getting bogged down with forced or contrived sub-plots.

I really enjoyed how this book gave a view of vampires that did not fit the one resulting from books like the Twilight series, where a vampire is basically an ordinary human who is immortal and has enhanced strength, while being loaded with charm. Thomas in Testament remains his somewhat inept self, until his confidence grows as he realizes he has found direction in life, only it occurs after his death.

There is a real creepy feel to this book. It starts with the cover, that sports a very dark background, with two glowing red eyes staring directly out, a title that has blood dripping from it but also has white, spotted with black dots, in the lettering. The premise is of a vampire who finds God, defies other vampires who curse God because of their fate and ends up dueling with the oldest of all vampires, their king. There are bits of "information" labeled "known vampire biology" preceding many chapters.

However, a good editor would have been beneficial. A word will be missing here and there, usually an article ("a" or "the"). A phrase will be awkwardly turned or have an extra word. One example is, "His wrinkles across the back of his neck and hands suggested that he might be as old as the church in which he worked in." That second "in" is superfluous.

While this book is 212 pages, it is shorter even than that. The bits of information on vampire biology, mixed with diary entries from the main characters that precede chapters, each get a whole page; these items are often just two to three lines. Combined with the gripping story, reading this book in one sitting is quite doable. Because of some of the gore and the many deaths, plus some sexual scenes, this is definitely not a children's book.

book review by
Chris McCallister

9 October 2010

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