Monday, August 26, 2013

A Bloody Good Book

Christopher Farnsworth has some serious guts. Sure, all writers are brave people. We bleed on paper, putting some of our most personal thoughts and dreams out there for the world to read, even if we do often disguise them as the actions or ideas of our characters. But I'm talking about a different kind of creative courage.

If there's one thing that's most precious to writers, it's ideas. We need ideas to ply our trade. We horde them away as if they were as valuable as Faberge eggs. We collect them in Word files, on the backs of used envelopes, on little scraps of paper stuffed Columbo-like into our trench coat pockets, and we'll even resort to scribbling on toilet paper before an ethereal inspiration slips away in the night. So when, on page 20 of Farnsworth's latest novel, Red, White and Blood, I read, "Only a week ago, they had dealt with a squad of men who'd learned to use Spontaneous Human Combustion to make themselves into living bombs..." my jaw hit the floor. What Farnsworth did there was take an idea worthy of at least a short story and maybe even a full novel, and fire it at his readers like a single bullet just to make that one paragraph more interesting. I'd be overjoyed to come up with an idea that good and I'd probably milk it for every word it was worth...and Christopher Farnsworth uses it as a little detail! My respect for his writing doubled at that moment, and it was already at a pretty high level to begin with.

Red, White and Blood is the third novel in the Nathaniel Cade series. The premise of the series is partially based on a real historical incident. President Andrew Johnson once commuted the death sentence of a man accused of being a vampire. That part is fact. What Farnsworth did was take the idea further and attack the question of what if it really was a vampire? What if this blood-drinking undead being has secretly been working as a government  operative for every U.S. president from Johnson to today (although the current president in the books is a fictitious character instead of Barack Obama). It's a great concept and the books are even better than they might sound from my brief summary.

I've read and enjoyed all three books so far, and each has gotten better. The first, Blood Oath, introduces readers to the vampire Nathaniel Cade, his president-appointed "handler" Zach Barrows (a young man who knows politics but has to learn the hard way how to navigate the terrors of the night), and various supporting characters. Blood Oath  focuses on events involving a modern day Frankenstein-type character,

The second Cade book, The President's Vampire, was even more thrilling for me than the first, as it contains elements inspired by the work of one of my favorite writers, H.P. Lovecraft. It also tells us what really happened to Osama Bin Laden!

So I recently read the third installment, Red, White and Blood, and I'm happy to be able to report that it's the best one yet. The plot, which centers on a thing called the Boogeyman, a seemingly indestructible  incarnation of the serial killer or slasher archetype, is interesting, fast-paced, suspenseful, and even heartbreaking at times. After this one, I've also come to the conclusion that Christopher Farnsworth is one of those writers with whom no character is truly safe, which is yet another reason his work impresses me.

The Cade novels aren't strictly horror stories. They tend to cross genres between gruesome horror and intense action, with bits of mystery thrown in as well. And I can't forget to mention the references. Farnsworth ties together all sorts of historical facts, conspiracy speculations, occult ideas, and other details in ways that will make fans of the things he refers to smile, while not getting in the way of the enjoyment of readers who might be unfamiliar with such things. In other words, the style in which these books are written will welcome both hardcore genre fans and casual readers alike.

As the author of two vampire novels myself, I'm occasionally asked about my favorite vampire books or movies. There are many bloodsucker stories I've enjoyed over the years on either paper or film, but Farnsworth's Cade series is easily my favorite currently running vampire series of any kind. These are excellent books, with each better than the last. I look forward to the fourth book in the series. 

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