Story by: Craig Jones
Vampires. I just don’t know what to do with vampires. In fact, I’m probably the wrong person to be reviewing this story. I watch True Blood so I can take notes in how not to craft a narrative. I got about half way through the first Twilight novel before it made me want to hang myself. When I was in high school I refused to recognize Dracula as a tragic figure in Stoker’s novel. There’s something in the fundamental romance of Vampire stories that is lost on me. Or to put it another way, I’m a cynical bastard and I know that were I to be gifted with immortality and super human powers, I would not spend my days pining after one “magic woman” who connects me to some lost element of my humanity. However, Mr. Jones sent me his story so I feel that I at least owe him something in the way of a review.
Gem – No Loose Ends is the first in a series of longer short stories/novellas about a New York based vampire hit-woman named Gem. Within the first few pages of the story readers learn some important details about their undead protagonist. Although she is a freelance killer for a criminal syndicate, she’s also a principled assassin who refuses to take any job that involves drugs, women or children. Gem is also a sexual creature, as is to be expected within vampire fiction. What was unexpected, but certainly not unwelcome, was Gem’s flexible sexuality. Though driven by human impulses, impulses that often prove a distraction to her work, she’s not limited by human sociological mores. Moreover, Gem’s not perfect as a protagonist. One of my biggest complaints about vampires in fiction is that they never make mistakes. Vampires are only drawn into conflicts because of the ineptitudes of the humans who surround them; this is not the case in No Loose Ends. I’ll endure some of the clichés of vampire fiction present within the narrative, aversions to garlic and crucifixes among them, since the plot steers clear of the aforementioned gimmick.
The plot itself is a bit of a toss-up for me. In its favour is the fact that it is very well paced. There’s not a lot of heavy exposition or world building. The only exception therein is the amount of the detail that goes into describing various articles of women’s clothing. However, such attention is likely a necessary contribution to the sexuality that oozes off Gem and Katrina, the two main female characters. Otherwise, events unfold quickly and smoothly. Gem’s affiliated syndicate hires her to do a job, but the nature of that task ends up turning the mob, or at least one cell of the organization, against their prized assassin.
It is in the transition from fixer to liability that I found myself a bit put off. Maloney, the mobster who hires Gem, tells her that, “The problems you make go away don’t come back.” Charging a mere $10,000 per hit, I can’t imagine why a mob boss would allow such a useful asset to be removed from his arsenal. Perhaps the plot against Gem wasn’t ordered from the top, but came directly from Maloney. But if The Sopranos has taught me anything about organized crime, it’s that the farther down you go in the organization the lower the IQs get. So when Gem, an experienced professional assassin, finds herself caught off guard by a troop of goons my suspension of disbelief is strained. The trade off is that Gem’s mistakes make her that much more human as a protagonist. Sure, she feeds on the blood of mortals and has a libido that works in overdrive, but who hasn’t let one appetite or another blind them to what they should have seen coming?
I suppose it is the fundamental contradiction of the central character that simultaneously helps and hinders the overall story. Vampires are supposed to be creatures of passion, impulse and desire. Assassins are cold, calculating professionals who divorce a certain part of their humanity from themselves in order to their jobs. As a character, Gem reads like an interesting attempt at reconciling those polar opposites all the while establishing New York as an urban fantasy environment. The Dracula/Vampire Bill part of her nature is there, I’ll cast no doubts on that point. It’s the Agent 47 or Jules Winnfield side to Gem’s character that felt a bit in need of tightening up. Though the writing hints at reasons why she isn’t like those iconic contract killers, I still wanted a bit more ice in her veins.
On that note, I can’t really say that Gem – No Loose Ends has inspired me to convert to the world of Vampire fiction. As a sci-fi reader who’s only starting to dabble with horror, too much of me wanted this story to be something that it’s not. At the same time, I expect that my friend Norton, who loves both The Sopranos and The Southern Vampire Mysteries, would thoroughly enjoy this series. As well, I would probably recommend Gem to my mom who loves all things Vampire but loathes all things powered by warp drive. There’s defiantly an audience for this story, I just don’t think that I’m really part of it.
+1 for keeping a vampire protagonist accessible
+1 for detail writing of women’s clothing as a means of ratcheting up the sexuality and offering some back story on the characters
+1 for writing a vampire hit-woman story. Vampire cop, vampire PI, and vampire gadabout are all over done
+1 for being something that I could get my mom to read
-1.5 for potentially problematic plot catalyst
-0.5 for occasional whiffs of vampire angst
-0.5 for adhering to the notion that Christianity and crucifixes are somehow anathema to vampires
Overall Score: +1.5
Fang fans can check out all of Jones’ work at TWB Press