Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Vampire$, Dallas and Catholics. Oh my!

  1. God is real AND vampires are too.
  2. A team of mercenaries, with pure hearts, are taking cash for cleaning up vampire infested towns.
  3. The anti-vamp mercs are in league with the Pope and the Vatican, who know and support their efforts.
This was the section of Jesse's SFFaudio Essential review of Vampire$ that made me sit up and take notice. That, and the fact that Jesse rarely is as all-out enthusiastic as he was in this review, made me pick up a copy from the library.

Jack Crow leads a group of hardened mercenaries in hunting the evilest of all prey: vampires. Crow's only ally and employer, is the Vatican, specifically the pope. Most people do not know vampires are more than creatures of fiction so this makes "Team Crow's" job even more difficult, especially when it comes to getting cooperation from law enforcement. They don't let that stop them, however, and just do what a warrior's gotta do, which is to stop Evil in its tracks. That this is a military-style epic tale becomes clear as we see that the vampire hunters' violent, cursing exteriors can't hide their hearts of gold, especially for the other members of the team who are their true family. It is when Felix, a former drug smuggler, is added as an integral member of the team that the book takes off as he struggles with the concept that this may be the destiny he was born for.

The story is told in a clean, spare style which makes it no less riveting. There are plot turns and twists right up to the end of the book and many of them really surprised me because the style lured me into thinking this would be straight forward story telling. I also appreciated Steakley's sense of humor. For instance his use of rock and roll versus opera was a throwaway bit on the surface but reflected much about the people involved. As well, once I learned that Cat was a joker, I would anticipate his comments as soon as I saw he was going to speak. His puns were corny but used in original ways and that is a rare talent.

My only complaint is that there is one section where we hear an "inside story" about how a vampire takes over prey and establishes a base to work from. This seemed overly long and the concept and pattern were repeated with far too many examples. As this was a highly sexualized part of the tale, it seemed simply like an excuse to include lascivious details which quickly bored me. However, I must also add that this section was far less explicit than one would find in a comparable work today, or so it seems to me, and I appreciated that.

Highly recommended for those who like vampire tales, mercenaries with hearts of gold, Texas, and old-school use of the Catholic Church in fighting Evil. Not necessarily in that order.

For more about this author and Texas and the Church, just keep reading.

(Warning: this book contains sex, vampires, and rock and roll ... and all the bad language and violence which those things imply. Yes, I loved much of it because it felt very appropriate to the situations, but if you will not: avoid this book.)

I found myself surprised and intrigued by even more than the plot twists and turns that add pleasing dimension to the story. Steakley doesn't name names but his descriptions are enough to let you know that he has rooted the story in fact whenever possible. Jack Crow's favorite hotel is the Adolphus in Dallas. The pope's description leaves no one in doubt that we are reading about John Paul II.

For one thing, it looked as if author John Steakley knew Dallas. My first clue was reading his description of the Dallas bishop, when "Team Crow" goes by the bishop's residence to pick up their package of silver crosses sent straight from Rome.
The silver had arrived from Rome through the local see. The bishop was a new man who knew nothing about Team Crow or, for that matter, his parishioners. Persuaded by his aide that anyone with enough clout to receive a package from the Vatican through diplomatic channels was worth knowing, he grudgingly consented to share his sumptuous evening feast with Crow & Co.

It took less than fifteen minutes in his presence for Team Crow to know all the important facts about this man. He was cold. He was haughty. He was better than his flock, more cultured, more intelligently pious, more .. how shall one put it? More aristocratic.

The bishop was an idiot.
I felt a jolt of recognition. I told Tom briefly about the book, said it was set in Dallas, and copyrighted in 1990. Then I read him the description, and waited. It took only a second and then we both burst out laughing. It was a spot-on description of Bishop Grahmann who was installed in the Dallas diocese early in 1990.

However, that is also a common sort of character to encounter so I chalked it up to coincidence. It was when I saw that a wealthy character was introduced who lived in a secluded part of Inwood Road then I knew no coincidence was involved. John Steakly knew Dallas well because anyone from outside the area would have most probably placed the residence in Highland Park.

I asked Tom if he thought this author might be from Dallas and when I spelled his name, Tom said, "You mean as in Steakley Chevrolet?" (Now defunct but a Dallas staple car dealership for many, many years).

Oh. Right. I knew I had heard that name before.

Further research showed Steakley was from nearby Cleburn, Texas, which anyone who reads the book will recognize as a major setting and one where the police force is highly praised. For any Dallasites reading I will add that John Steakley lives in McKinney now. So he knows whereof he writes about Dallas.

(slight spoilers in this section)
It is not only Dallas that you get the feeling John Steakly understands. There is a dependence on the Catholic Church in the way that vampire tales of old used to convey. Good versus Evil. God versus the Unholy. Love, suffering, sacrifice, and redemption.

In the flicks that church forgot podcast review of 'Salem's Lot, Peter Laws pointed out that this was one of the first horror movies to devalue the nature of the sacraments into a reflection of personal faith. Actually, to put it as St. Augustine did, a sacrament is "a visible sign of an invisible reality." They have intrinsic value in and of themselves because they are blessed. (This might make them sound as if they are "magic" but that would be another misunderstanding and is not true ...)

The movie reflects Stephen King's book on this point of personal faith and sacraments. I was not Christian until long afterward but I still remember being vividly impressed by this speech from the book made by the master vampire after he has overpowered the priest, a man of shaky faith further undermined by alcoholism:
The cross--the bread and wine--the confessional--only symbols. Without faith the cross is only wood, the bread baked wheat, the wine sour grapes. If you had cast the cross away, you should have beaten me another night. In a way, I had hoped it might be so. It has been long since I had met a opponent of any real worth. The boy makes ten of you, false priest.
I took this as a statement of fact and it took several years of Catholicism to overcome a tendency to revert to this wrong concept.

There is no such shakiness in this book. The requirement for bullets made from the silver rendered by melting crosses which had to have been blessed by a bishop or higher does not also include that the gunman be a believer. The sacramental value is contained within the ammunition itself.

Furthermore, Steakley had no way of knowing in 1990 that Bishop Grahmann would never work well with his flock and that other major grievances would arise from his tenure. I, myself, had to struggle mightily with forgiveness on several fronts for this man. I will not spoil the moment by telling about the occasion in the story, but Steakley redeems the bishop in a spectacular way that out and out forgives the bishop for his lack of character. Well before that, he gives the bishop humanity which shows after the truth of the situation is understood.

Within the context of the story, this works well in moving the plot along. However, taken from the standpoint of one who was aware of the bishop both as non-Catholic and as a convert, it is a very generous stance. It is a stance of forgiveness and understanding that is far beyond that extended even today by some people toward the bishop. It was a humbling moment, actually, to realize that I am not sure if I'd have had that character show that Father Adam is right when he says, "There is a reason why people become priests, Kirk." It is a thoroughly Catholic understanding of the priesthood.

Those examples are just a few of the ways that Steakley unwaveringly sets the Church as the driving force behind this epic battle between good and evil. Just as those who enjoy horror read Dean Koontz's books with a Catholic focus, so can they enjoy this particular book. He knows whereof he writes about the Church.


  1. OK Vampire$ is now on my wish list. Nice to see a book involving the Vatican not going off the rails as so many do.

    Neil Gaiman recently said he stopped working on a book that involved a vampire because of the current vampire glut.

  2. I agree there is a vampire glut ... AND a zombie glut. I now tend to avoid books featuring either unless they get stellar reviews, as this one did from Jesse. And you KNOW it's a good 'un because the last thing Jesse is gonna care about is the Catholic thing. He's in it for the story and the sf. :-)

  3. It was made into a mediocre film but with interesting sections. I didn't realize it was based on a film.

  4. I agree 100% with you about "Vampire$". It is a great book that I have read several times.

    One word of caution, not about the book, but about the movie based on it. John Carpenter's Vampires is simply awful. The only thing that comes through is Carpenter's hatred of the Church and all things Catholic.

  5. Agreed on all fronts. Steakley also knows Dallas private schools - it's no chance that the converted vamps are St. Mark's students who murder Hockadaisies...