Reviwed by Johnny Butane
Written by Ray Garton
Published by Leisure Books
So this is why everyone credits Ray Garton as “the author of Live Girls“. Obviously I knew it was because he wrote the book, but until I read it for myself, I never got why that was so significant. Now it all makes sense…
Live Girls takes place in a time when Times Square was not the sort of place you wanted to be in when the sun went down…or even when the sun was up. Compared to its squeaky-clean (read: DULL) image now, the Time Square of Live Girls seems like it must have existed in another world. Oddly, however, the book was first published just shy of 20 years ago, which serves as a striking reminder of how much the city has changed.
But Live Girls isn’t really about New York; it just takes place there. The book is actually about Davey Owen, an employee of Penn Publishing for many long, miserable years, whose girlfriend just walked out on him again because he’s unable to ever stand up for himself, stick to his decisions, or even get angry about his dead-end job. All his life Davey’s been hurt by the women he’s been involved with, but this latest cut the deepest.
Lonely and desperate on his lunch hour one day, he decides to cab it to Times Square and take in a peep show. Davey’s not the kind to do such things, and the garish ads and voluminous barkers are almost enough to make him give up altogether…until he spots a small, nondescript place called Live Girls. He decides to go in and see what it’s all about, and before he knows it, he’s given some of the best sexual satisfaction of his life and left feeling more drained than he thought possible. He’s also enamored with the young girl behind the glass, a girl who is unnaturally cool to the touch who very much enjoys what she does. So what if he notices some bite marks in his most private of areas?
Meanwhile, a reporter for the New York Times is on the hunt for his brother-in-law, whom he suspects is responsible for the horribly mutilated bodies of his sister and niece, and tracks him back to Live Girls. Paths cross eventually, much blood is spilled, and one of the more interesting vampire novels I’ve read is unspooled before my eyes.
Yes, Live Girls is a book about vampires, much in the same way Skipp & Spector’s Light at the End is a book about vampires. In other words, it doesn’t suck (pun intended). The creatures are given just enough humanity to make them pass for one of us when it’s important they do so, but at their hearts they are nothing but carnivorous beasts with nary a care as to whom they slaughter to satiate their hunger. Garton doesn’t take the Gothic, classy approach to his bloodsuckers, or if he does, he does so without all the pretension, and adds some great additions to the mythos, like the fact that feeding off of a junkie can have severe, lasting consequences for a vampire. This “new” rule results in a final showdown of sorts that is both revolting and strangely touching at the same time.
Garton is the author of over 50 books, but Live Girls is really his crowning achievement in terms of both story and characters, and I’m glad Leisure is finally able to get this book out to the mass market after the many years and many hard-to-find editions that have come before. The book is gritty, violent, romantic, and erotic with equal measure, and I was glued to the page the entire time.
My only real complaint is the amount of time spent establishing that these creatures are vampires for both the readers and the characters. If you look at the cover, you know what it’s about, but the slow reveal of all the standard vampire lore (excluding their aversion to sunlight; these vamps just can’t take too much of it) does grind the pace down some, though after some of the bloodier set pieces you may be thankful for a breather.
Live Girls is an out-and-out classic vampire novel, not only because of how well crafted the tale and its players are, but because of the slice of American history that it takes place during, a time that we’ll likely never see again (at least not in our lifetime) that gives the book a feeling of something more important than your standard horror yarn. Highly recommended!
4 1/2 out of 5
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