Leave it to a cheap-looking '80s horror paperback from Pinnacle Books to feature ridiculous cover art of a demonically leering rabid vampire bat ready to attack… in a vampire novel that denies that vampires can turn into bats. Repeatedly and without doubt. Of course, this tacky cover was the only reason I even bought Lifeblood, a book I’d never ever heard of before, nor did I have any familiarity at all with author Lee Duigon. So it might please you to know it’s not nearly as cheap or tawdry as its cover would lead you to believe; while Lifeblood is clearly no lost classic, it’s a fairly readable 'Salem’s Lot-lite that doesn’t try to be ambitious, nor does it insult readers’ intelligence with unbelievable coincidences or poor hack writing. Well, it might have some hack writing but nothing that’s gonna make you want to toss the book in a corner, cursing at its stupidity… like some horror I’ve read.
Like countless horror novels good and bad, the prologue occurs decades before the action proper begins. Then, chapter one, standard well-to-do small-town America, drawn in fair detail by Duigon, who studied political science and journalism, which serves him quite well in laying down the specifics of Millboro, New Jersey. Into this sane and polite society - which of course masks a den of hypocrisy - comes vampire genius Dr. Emerson, a strangely obese member of the undead who was once a brilliant doctor, and who now uses his scientific training to learn more about the physiological nature of his supernatural powers as well as the mechanism of turning humans into creatures of his ilk. His human companion is Blanche, formerly one of his nurses, who has killed dozens of her patients over the years, releasing them to God, as it were. Raised by fundamentalists, Blanche is terrified of eternal punishment for her unthinkable crimes and hopes one day her Master will do as he’s promised: make her one of the immortal undead.
At first Emerson tries to turn a “Satan-worshiping” teenage kid into one of his kind, after watching him lead other kids in a laughable diabolic orgy, informed more by the ludicrous satanic panic of the day and now-classic heavy-metal records than anything that, uh, ever really happened. While procuring some of those records for Emerson so he can familiarize himself with them, Blanche suddenly gets all Tipper Gore:
Here Blanche was, a murderer many times over, and the songs offended her. The lyrics touted incest, abuse, even child molestation. Suicide. Drugs, drugs, drugs. And devil worship too. Blanche’s religious sensibilities could not be described as highly developed, but she hoped she would never sink as low as devil worship.
This effort of course fails miserably. But a nosy old investigative journalist or a lonely woman ignored by her career-obsessed husband and is now about to embark on an affair with the beleaguered police chief (what the hell is with all these not-quite-dead yet rotting bodies turning up?), might make better candidates for Emerson’s experiments. And yes, there is an aged “man of God” on his trail, a wizened old priest with many miles and horrors behind him, and now determined to end the vampire’s life as he nears the end of his own.
Duigon is an okay writer, but he spends too much time on some intricacies of small-town government and lackluster characters than he should; some sections read like first drafts, dialogue is patchy, and the image of a fat vampire simply doesn’t feel right. I definitely skimmed some chapters; the novel could be tightened up by 30 or 50 pages, maybe. But the pacing is generally solid and the climax, while beginning as cliché when three reluctant vampire hunters descend into the Master’s lair, is still pretty cool with a nice touch of originality at one point. The final chapter? A bit of blackly-humored comeuppance that I wasn’t expecting but is indeed welcome. As for front and back covers, we’ve all seen worse, but the art is unfair to the story itself, as is the off-puttingly generic title. Still, all that worked, no? I bought the book for those very reasons! Irony, s'good for the blood.