Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Best Fiends

After an aborted start at You Suck, I backtracked and read Bloodsucking Fiends. This is the third Christopher Moore book that I've read; I think it's something around the third or so book that he wrote chronologically, and kinda the first in this particular series, although there is a loose tie back to Practical Demonkeeping, his debut novel.


It's a thoroughly enjoyable book. Moore is a breeze to read, witty, and has great subject matter for his books. For example, while PD was focused around the awesome Big Sur coastline, BF takes place entirely within the City of San Francisco. Its protagonist is a transplant from the Midwest. While I can hardly claim to identify with Tommy, I did really appreciate his, "gee, whiz!" reaction to the splendors of the West Coast.


My favorite element of this book is something that Moore stole outright: The Emperor. That's right, Norton's legend lives on! He's never named here, but Moore borrows everything else about the man: his title (Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico), his dogs (Bummer and Lazarus, each of whom is remarkably well fleshed out, and Bummer in particular ending up as one of my favorite supporting characters), his attitude of benign lordship over the City, and so on. I think that "Safety first!" is Moore's own invention. Norton adapts remarkably well to the 20th century setting, integrates beautifully with the plot, and provides great character.

A close second: The Animals. This wild group of late-night stockboys at the Marina Safeway provide pure, unbridled id that makes everyone else seem straight-laced in comparison. Because there are so many of them, the individuals aren't too thoroughly sketched, but the collective impact is one of outright mayhem.

Tommy himself is thoroughly likeable: a dreamer, an innocent, but someone who isn't at all self-righteous. His worldview is constantly getting challenged, and his habitual reaction is, "Wow, that's neat!"

Jody is also fun, more for her situation than for her actual personality. Moore pulls off an impressive feat in making vampirism seem important without being too melodramatic, and funny without seeming trivial. I liked Jody's gradual dawning apprehension of what's going on. There's a growing eagerness within her to embrace these changes; simultaneously, she recognizes that eagerness, and mulls over whether or not to indulge it.

Finally, Rivera and Caruso are intentionally stock figures, but do a good job of moving the plot along. I'm pretty sure that at least one of them (maybe Rivera?) was a minor character in Practical Demonkeeping; at one point in this book, he makes an offhand statement about seeing an event from that previous book. Which is cool. I did authors who create cohesive mythologies, and if they're set in the "real world," so much the better.

The plot is fun, well-edited, and moves along at a good clip while mainly serving the primary goal of letting these great characters interact. It starts with Jody turning into a vampire, and the rest of the novel revolves around her struggles to deal with that transformation, and the actions of others who she affects. There's a parallel story about a series of murders. I hesitate to call this a "mystery," since it's really clear from the very beginning what's going on there, but it still bears all the hallmarks of a mystery: the investigations, the clues, the dogged detectives, the informants, and so on.


Oh, but as with all great books set here, The City is a character in its own right. I wasn't living here in the early 90's when this book was written, but I think Moore nailed it. He gets the faux trendiness of loft space in "scenic" SOMA; the nightclub scene (striving to seem like a mix of folks, but inevitably skewing towards yuppie scum as the inevitable effect of expensive drinks); the gotta-always-be-on-your-watch minor terrors of the Tenderloin; the relative refuge of Cow Hollow; the stark barrenness of the Financial District after 5pm; the overwhelming cacaphony of Stockton Street in Chinatown; the crushing worlds of commerce and history in North Beach; and on and on. I think it's awesome that someone can "get" The City after a relatively short time here, and yet still have enough explorations to fill a lifetime.

BF is fun and colorful. It would be well worth reading for The Emperor alone, but the Emperor has plenty of company that elevates the book still more. Moore brings things to a clever conclusion, and while the book ends on a satisfying resolution, I'm also not at all surprised that he brought out sequels to it. I'm looking forward to seeing how the story continues.

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