THE HUMAN DISGUISE by James O’Neal was one of my favorite books of 2009. It introduced Tom Wilner, a South Florida cop in the Unified Police Force in what is left of that area in the first third of the 21st century. Plague and nuclear war have taken their toll on the United States. Terrorist attacks on September 11th take place with regularity. Miami is all but deserted, a free-fire zone that is the subject of a tug of war among warring interests. And, as is known only to Wilner and a few others, an undocumented species, a branch of humanity that is the stuff of legend, sits and waits. The Simolits and the Hallecks are the two main families comprising this species; while not immortal, they are extraordinarily long-lived and extremely difficult to kill. The Hallecks have historically defended homo sapiens, often from the Simolits, though the two families formed an uneasy alliance against Hitler during World War II and have since engaged in a series of off-again, on-again truces.
If this sounds like Mad Max meets Alien Nation, that’s not quite right but it’s close. “Miami Vice” after the bomb works; Ed McBain collaborating with Robert Heinlein wouldn’t be far off either. In any event, THE DOUBLE HUMAN, the second book in the series, has just been published, and it’s even better than its predecessor. You might want to read THE HUMAN DISGUISE first to fully appreciate all of the nuances of the sequel. What O’Neal has done here is to totally knock down the barrier between detective and science fiction. His Miami of 2035 or so is perfect: you can see it coming right now, and in some areas of the city it has already arrived. If the first book focused on setting up this post-apocalyptic Miami, the follow-up concerns itself with Wilner’s crime-fighting abilities.
A serial killer has manifested himself in the Miami Quarantine Zone, one whose trademark method of mayhem involves a mortal wound to the throat. The murderer, who is quickly dubbed “The Vampire,” appears able to walk among the populace and dispatch at will. Aided in his investigation by his UPF partner, Steve Besslia, Wilner makes a startling discovery: similar killings have been occurring in the greater Miami area for over 50 years. Wilner suspects that the killer is a rogue member of the Simolit family, but the Simolits --- whose relationship with Wilner remains prickly following the events of THE HUMAN DISGUISE --- deny any foreknowledge of such a person and in fact maintain that they want to catch him as badly as Wilner does. Wilner has no idea how close the Vampire is to him, or to his new love interest, a schoolteacher who works in the Quarantine Zone and is a heartbeat away from being the Vampire’s next victim.
O’Neal, under his government name James O. Born, is a highly regarded author of crime fiction and an officer with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. He knows the territory, and can analyze and talk about it. His prescient abilities combine with an almost unparalleled knack for storytelling to make THE DOUBLE HUMAN a non-stop and addictive read. And someone, somewhere has to adapt this for a television series. Then we’d only have to wait until next week rather than next year for a new installment.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 21, 2011