Half the Blood of Brooklyn
you are a fan of hard-boiled fiction, as I am, then a book with the
title HALF THE BLOOD OF BROOKLYN will grab your attention. And this
work by Charlie Huston certainly merits attention.
Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I should note that I have
never been a big fan of the vampire genre. As a reporter, from what
I have observed, the living scare me considerably more than the
undead. But Huston has delivered a wildly imagined, fevered dream
of a book, the third featuring his “vyrus”-infected
private eye, Joe Pitt.
Huston describes himself as a writer of “Noircrime
fiction.” He is certainly hard boiled. In HALF THE BLOOD OF
BROOKLYN we are treated to two decapitations, two arm amputations,
a head split open by an ax and bullets fired into an ear. And that
is in the first eight pages. If you are able to handle gore deluxe
and multiple flying body parts, then you will find here an
interesting reworking of the timeless vampire story.
For these are not your grandfather’s vampires. No black capes
or “children of the night” speeches for the 21st
century Vampyre. Sunlight is still a big no-no for them, but
otherwise things are different. Huston writes, “Holy
water’s just gonna get you wet, garlic is just gonna make
your breath reek, and a crucifix is just a stick with a guy nailed
to it…you bring a Vampyre down the same way you bring anyone
down, only more so.” Indeed.
The modern-day bloodsuckers live among the non-infected in society,
but their numbers are so small that they must be discreet. If they
were to become known, somebody in the civilian world would declare
a “War on Vampyres” and wipe them all out in a flash.
So while killing the stray homeless might be acceptable as a way to
get fresh blood, widespread nighttime rampaging is definitely not
So in New York they establish themselves into a series of clans and
divide up their turf, much like the old political bosses of the
city’s Democratic Party and the criminal gangs of New York.
Clan members have regulated access to the blood they need to stay
alive and healthy.
HALF THE BLOOD OF BROOKLYN starts with the balance of power among
the gangs being threatened when some Brooklyn clans want to cross
the bridge into Manhattan. Vampyre New York threatens to become
like the Balkans before the First World War where the slightest
miscalculation can lead to a much wider and disastrous war.
Joe Pitt is chief of security, enforcer, hit man --- sort of the
head of Homeland Security --- for the lower East Side clan known as
The Society. They live in a state of uneasy peace with their much
larger northern neighbor, The Coalition, which controls much of the
rest of Manhattan island.
What Huston has done here to great effect is meld the hard-boiled
noir of the detective story to the horror legend. Pitt is as hard
boiled as they come, admitting, “A cure will not make me
better. It will just make me like a regular son-of-a-bitch. Like
the Vyrus makes you into something else. It doesn’t. If you
get it, if you survive, it was because you were already the type of
person who will drink blood.”
Pitt reminds me of Tom Neal in the great film noir,
Detour. He is a guy who knows that the deck is stacked
against him but still has to play his cards. Pitt says,
“We’re all going to the same place. I’m just
taking a different road. If the scenery sucks, I can drive into a
ditch whenever I want.”
After an illegal blood dealer operating out of a candy store of all
places is killed close to Society turf, Pitt is ordered on a
mission to Brooklyn. At Coney Island, he encounters a really scary
freak show featuring a Vampyre clan led by a midget. Things go from
bad to really, really bad in a hurry. And crosses and double
crosses quickly ensue as the blood flows.
However, Pitt has bigger problems than those at work. The only
person he cares about in the world, his girlfriend Evie, is dying
from AIDS in a hospital. So while a virus is killing her, another
virus is keeping Pitt alive but living a life in hell. Pitt knows
that he might be able to save Evie by infecting her with his
Vampyre blood, which would attack the AIDS virus. But not everybody
so infected survives, and even if she does, does he have the right
to condemn her to an eternal life as a Vampyre?
In the end, although a Vampyre and killer, Pitt is faced with the
very human dilemma of how to deal with a loved one in an impossible
life or death situation where all the choices are bad ones. He is
not just a monster, but a human monster.
Huston has written a gripping, engaging novel that provides real
chills. In one scene, Pitt finds himself lost in a train tunnel
with a Vampyre “white to the point of transparence” who
lives down there. He says, “A train blasts past just beyond
the alcove that hides the door, and I watch the real people flick
This might be the best noir sentence I have read in a long time.
For how often do New Yorkers stare into the darkness of those
subway tunnels as their trains blast past and wonder what lurks in
that darkness, even as our reflections stare back at us? How close
are we really to the darkness and how much of the darkness is
already infecting us, even if we don’t realize it?
HALF THE BLOOD OF BROOKLYN is a wildly entertaining novel. Charlie
Huston is a writer worth keeping an eye on, and I, for one, am
going to search out the other books in the Joe Pitt series. I
suggest you do as well.
Reviewed by Tom Callahan on January 22, 2011