Reviewed by Debi Moore
Published by St. Martin’s Press
Vampires. Forget everything you think you know about them, including how to spell the word. All the myths and lore regarding their habits, their weaknesses, and even how to kill them are wrong. In fact, they were made up by the real vamps who walk among us in order to throw everyone off their scent. Because an odor — more often than not an unpleasant one — is something they undeniably share.
Meet Ovsanna Moore, charismatic head of Anticipation Studios in Hollywood and star of numerous successful horror films. Ostensibly she’s following in the footsteps of her mother and her mother’s mother. A real scream queen. But there’s a great deal more to Ms. Moore than meets the eye. She’s also a five centuries old vampyre with the title of Chatelaine of Hollywood, meaning that every other vampyre in the city owes fealty to her. She was the first to call LA “home,” and hence, per vampyre law, all claim to the city belongs to her. However, something is definitely amiss. Within the span of less than two weeks, three people, all actors with a connection to Anticipation — and Ovsanna — have been murdered. And we’re not talking about a regular shooting or a heat-of-the-moment type stabbing. The first, Jason Eddings, had his newly won Oscar thrust up his ass in the back of a limo. The second, 23-year old rising starlet Mai Goulart, met an even more unpleasant fate while Tommy Gordon, lead actor on the Fox Network’s “Cop Jocks” series, had his cock sucked up by a Jacuzzi filter.
The lead investigator on the case is Beverly Hills Police Dept. Officer Peter King. He’s pretty much seen it all and is even a bit of a hero in his own right, having saved a kid from drowning in the LA River. But these killings … they’re something else. And they’re just the beginning. Soon a few more people with ties to Ovsanna are slaughtered — even more brutally than the others. Peter suspects Ovsanna, or possibly her attractive young assistant Maral McKenzie is the guilty party; she, too, has skeletons in the closet. But as more and more clues are revealed, he becomes conflicted. The attraction he feels toward Ovsanna doesn’t help matters much either.
For her part, Ovsanna is drawn to Peter also; however, she knows the closer he gets, the more dangerous things become for both of them. She needs to protect herself and keep her secrets from him, one of which is that all three victims were vampyres. Vampyres that she created. Which means someone is sending her a message. She’s not sure if the messenger is a hunter or a rogue vampyre; either would be equally devastating. But she’s far from alone in her battle. You see, everyone who’s anyone in Hollywood — actors, directors, agents, lawyers — is a vampyre. In particular the big-name stars; film magnifies their luminescence such that the audience can’t take their eyes off them.
The real beauty of Vampyres of Hollywood is how it stands the vampire mythos on its head and reinvents the genre with style and class, all the while skewering the conventions of the movie biz and today’s pop culture. We don’t get your run-of-the-mill cape-wearing Gothy vamps. Ovsanna and her ilk are much more interesting than that. They are comprised of factions with names like Dakhanavar (Ovsanna’s clan, known for their fighting abilities and ferocity) and Obdour (often attorneys, they have a single nostril and no fangs). But they’re only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. The world Ovsanna comes from also birthed Bobhan Sith, Dearg Due, dhampirs, and were-creatures. And before all of them were the Ancients, the oldest of the old who are now forced to live in the shadows, their appearance much more animal-like than human. And don’t expect any of them to change into something so conventional as a bat. No, Ovsanna and her fellow Vampyres of Hollywood prefer to exemplify some of our culture’s most malevolent symbols and legends: Medusa, gargoyles, werewolves, dragons, and demons.
And who are these “Vampyres of Hollywood” anyway? Just the crème de la crème of Hollywood’s Golden Age. There are twelve in total; to whet your appetite, I’ll name two: Theda and Tod. All of them, with their beloved Chatelaine at the helm, wrote the so-called rules of vampire behavior and made sure the public at large bought their stories hook, line, and sinker. Quite ingenious, actually. Once they all re-enter the picture to assist Ovsanna in what ultimately becomes the pivotal battle of her lengthy lifetime, the novel Vampyres of Hollywood really hits its stride.
Initially Vampyres reads more like a taut, hard-boiled detective story than the typical bloodsucker’s tale. In this case that’s a plus. It’s mature, sexy, funny as hell, and full of old school Hollywood glamour. The dialogue flows naturally with the chapters written in first-person but alternating between Ovsanna’s and Peter’s perspectives. The technique grabbed my attention from the very start and made for a real page-turner. And then, in the final third, when it turns into balls-to-the-wall horror, well, I couldn’t put it down. I sped through the entire 325 pages in a couple of days. You want to talk about a perfect summer beach book? Or how about a rainy weekend companion? This is it in spades.
There are a couple of little nitpicks I have to mention, however. The most glaring is the timeframe of the storyline. The three main murders occur around Oscar time, which is typically in early spring. But then suddenly it’s the holiday season, and some characters are wondering what to get others for Christmas. I’m willing to go pretty far with artistic license, but that really stuck out considering how accurate and genuine everything else about the book feels. And while there’s a lot of sexual tension between Ovsanna and Maral, Ovsanna and Peter, and even Peter and Maral to some degree, there’s no actual sex. I’m hoping Ms. Barbeau is just toying with her readers by letting things build up to a passionate encounter or two in the next installment. She’s certainly proven she can write about gore and gruesomeness both vividly and explicitly! The imagination shown by her and co-author Michael Scott in terms of the various monsters’ back stories, along with all the different terrifying forms they can take, was absolutely inspired. Vampyres may be geared slightly more toward female readers, but the men who pick it up shouldn’t have any complaints about how graphic the violence is.
Nor how seamlessly Barbeau and Scott managed to work together. This pairing is a true winner. Their protagonists smolder with preternatural sexuality and are as current as the latest issue of People Magazine. It’s not just old-time Hollywood that gets the spotlight. The follies of those in charge today are exposed with just as bright a glow. Which leaves me extremely curious what the second chapter in Ovsanna and Peter’s story will be. Will they work together to solve crimes? Will she Turn him or leave him Warm like Maral? It’s been a long time since I read a book that had me as anxious to see what would happen next as my favorite weekly TV shows. Especially one where the main character is a vampyre (almost always a bonus for this Woman). There’s no way of knowing how many sequels Vampyres of Hollywood may spawn, but if they’re anywhere as good as the original, then hopefully we’ll have a nice long series to look forward to.
4 out of 5