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"Write out of love, write out of instinct, write out of reason. But always for money."
Louis Untermeyer

Vampire Junction

By S.P. Somtow
A Tor Book, 362 pp, 1984

Timmy Valentine is a child rock star. Teens swoop for his soulful, enthralling dark eyes and his voice enchants and captivates. It is the voice of an angel.

Timmy looks 11 years old, and like most child stars he is troubled. You see, he is beginning to feel something he has not felt in, well, a long time: Compassion. This disturbs Timmy, and he seeks out an analyst, a Ms. Carla Ruebens, who quickly falls in love with him. She will help him explore his deepest emotions, probing the dim corners and recesses of his mind.

Oh yes, one last thing. Timmy is a two thousand year-old vampire.

That is the setup to what has become a classic in the horror genre. The Horror Writers Association lists it as one of the top 40 horror novels of all time, which is mainly why I read it (One of my goals in life is to read every horror novel in HWA’s Top 40. Counting Vampire Junction, I’ve finished eight. Still a ways to go.).

Anyway, I had seen the novel several times at the library, before I realized it was supposed to be so great, and passed it up because it didn’t look like the type of vampire novel I enjoy reading. I like my vampires dark, brooding, and shadowy, lurking in the background – in a word, scary. A good example of scary vs. non-scary vampire fiction is Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles. The first three were great (interestingly, Lestat, the main character, performs for a time as a rock star, a la Timmy Valentine). I stopped reading the Chronicles after the fourth installment, The Body Thief, because it degenerated into a psychobabble, homosexual literary device. It was no longer scary, not even close.

Vampire Junction, from all appearances, seemed very similar – why does a vampire need a shrink? – but I was pleasantly surprised. On the whole, the book is well paced with several truly frightening moments. Yes, it has its share of inner-seeking, emotion-laden nonsense, but not too much to ruin the story.

Timmy has been a vampire for two thousand years, and through the probing of his vast memory by Carla, we relive several harrowing moments of the boy vampire’s existence. He is captured by Bluebeard and trapped at Auschwitz, for example. While entertaining, the relevance these scenes have to the main plot is sketchy.

The novel also features a group of old men who encountered Timmy 60 years ago, when as children they sacrificed a young girl in a church. They called themselves the Gods of Chaos and dabbled in various occult practices. One of the former members of the group, conductor Stephen Miles, sees a photo of Timothy and recognize him as the same creature in the church so long ago. Thinking their foul deed conjured up this evil spirit, the Gods of Chaos gather one last time to track Timmy down and send him whence he came.

I can see why this is considered a classic, and I may read the sequel, but I think the author dwells too much on Timmy’s past, and that tends to slow the book down. Still, a vampire buff would no doubt enjoy it, as I did.

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