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


Vampyrrhic

By Simon Clark
Leisure Books, 434 pp, 2002

I must admit, I bought this book because of its cover. And its cool title. The cover shows the head and shoulders of a truly vicious looking Nosferatu-type vampire - the bald white head, long nose, bushy eyebrows. But this head is wrinkled with prominent veins, and every oversized tooth is razor-sharp and aged a gross yellow. The eyes glint with a fiendish glee. 

It's delightfully hideous. 

But what about the novel itself? All show and no go?

Luckily, the opposite is true. The book is pretty good, with a twist on the vampire legend that remains true to vampiric tradition. Not an easy trick.

David Leppington is a thirty-something year-old doctor on holiday in the town that bears his name - Leppington. He was born there, but his parents moved away when he was still a child, so he remembers little of the town. He checks into the local hotel and meets its intriguing owner, Electra, and a babe named Bernice, who lives there.

Bernice is haunted by a video she found in the hotel's Dead Room, where Electra stores items that guests have left behind. The video shows an American named Michael Stroud video-taping strange goings-on in the hotel and in the room Bernice is living in. A terrible thing happens to Stroud, all caught on tape, and Bernice is determined to discover what that is.

David meets up with an old uncle who tells him of the family history, how the Norse god Thor gave David's ancient ancestors a directive to wipe out all of Christendom, which was threatening Thor's turf. Thor supplied an army of 1,000 undead creatures, available at the old Leppington's beck and call. But something happened and Leppington never took control of this army. Perhaps it still exists in the sewers and underground passages beneath the streets of Leppington?

Jack Black is a thuggish criminal with a unique talent of reading minds. The gift comes and goes with no control, but it sure comes in handy in the novel. Jack is a good character but the mind-reading thing was a real stretch, a little device Clark would have done well to leave out.

As you might suspect, there certainly is an army under the streets, and other vampires who exist above ground. David, Jack, Bernice, and Electra (who knows much more about everything than she lets on) are forced to fight the vampire hordes or die trying.

It's a fun book, an entertaining read, with some frightening moments. I liked the twist. Clark is a good writer with a fine eye for detail and atmosphere, without letting his description slow down the action. The characters are all engaging and well-rounded. My only complaint, and it's a minor one, is that Clark sometimes intrudes on the story, like telling us that so-and-so character is going to die tomorrow, or some such contrived device to create phony suspense.

But he does that seldom enough that it doesn't ruin the book. Horror fans should enjoy it.

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