If you are looking for the definition of hard-boiled noir
fiction, you do not have to go much further than Charlie Huston. In
the Joe Pitt Casebook series, of which MY DEAD BODY is the
last installment, Huston successfully blends together mystery and
horror and delivers readers with a classic, original and, to put it
mildly, bloody series.
The first line of MY DEAD BODY perfectly defines a noir story:
“If you’re listening to this, I’m dead.” It
is hard to put a book down at that point. Our protagonist has
fallen upon hard times. Indeed, he is gradually falling apart and
is now missing an eye, a toe, and suffers from a broken knee. We
learn that Joe is trading his body parts in order to locate a
non-infected pregnant girl who might be carrying a baby infected
with the virus that creates Vampyres.
Joe is a man with a price on his head and living in a train
tunnel on the Upper West Side, feeding as needed off the other lost
souls of subterranean New York. “And when this started, I was
a secret. Lived in an apartment, just like you. Well, just like you
if you kept a mini-fridge of blood. When it ended I was living in a
sewer. Downward mobility being a danger to my kind.” He tells
us this in a voiceover reminiscent of classic film noir tinged with
a sense of horror that is new to the genre.
One of the things that makes this series so fresh and original
is that these are not your black cape, bad teeth vampires. Joe says
to the reader at one point, “No monsters in this world. Just
us people.” These people have been infected by an HIV-like
virus that created their thirst for blood. They have allied
themselves in secret, powerful clans to provide mutual aid for one
another. But humans are territorial by nature, and disputes are
inevitable. It is Joe’s earlier work first as a private eye,
then as an enforcer for The Society clan, and finally as a traitor
that has landed him in his precarious position at the start of MY
Now, due in large part to Joe, long-time tensions between the
clans have erupted into outright civil war over the missing girl.
Some want to use the girl and her child as a symbol of cooperation
and unity between the non-infected world and the infected. Others
see the girl as a threat to be eliminated since she will bring the
wraith of the non-infected world down upon them. And a third group
sees the unborn child as needed for scientific experimentation and
But Joe’s sole concern is the only person in the world he
loves, Evie, who he saved in a previous novel from AIDS by giving
her his infected blood to kill the disease. Now she has taken
refuge in the Enclave, a mystical, possibly insane, collective of
Vampyres. Evie sends words to Joe that she wants him to help find
the girl, a request that he accepts just so he can see her one last
Another brilliant feature of this series is that Huston exploits
the urban legends and paranoia of a city like New York perfectly.
People racing by on subway trains can’t help but wonder who
or what exists in those labyrinth pitch-black tunnels. Urban
vampires, like alligators in the sewers, couldn’t be real,
could they? When Joe comes back above ground at night, of course,
he discovers that the war is getting out of control. Huston echoes
here the bad old days of New York City in the 1970s, when a
president of the United States told it to “drop dead”
in a famous tabloid newspaper headline and nobody in their right
mind would venture into a public park after nightfall.
Thankfully, things aren’t nearly as bad now. But the line
between order and chaos is never that strong in the best of times,
and these clearly are not the best of times.
Huston captures perfectly the sense that the center is not
holding and something very bad is approaching. The war between the
clans threatens to be exposed. Will it result in concentration
camps for Vampyres as homeland security threats? Will the
non-infected insist on rounding up Vampyres for their own safety.
Or do the non-infected have something even greater to worry about:
that they are part-monster themselves?
Charlie Huston provides a non-stop adrenaline rush of excitement
in MY DEAD BODY --- as with all his novels, it is not for the
squeamish --- and he closes the series with an explosive twist.
Hopefully it won’t be too long before we see more additions
to his impressive bibliography.
Reviewed by Tom Callahan on January 7, 2011