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Underground Reading: Little Girl Lost by Richard Aleas

New Releases: Red, White and Blood by Christopher Farnsworth

Isbn9780340998212-detailRed, White and Blood (2012) is the third installment in the adventures of Nathaniel Cade, the President's Vampire. Cade is, well... exactly what the title says: a vampire sworn to obey the US President. This is the result of a blood oath impressed upon him by Marie Laveau during the tenure of Andrew Johnson.

Cade lives in a secret chamber underneath the Smithsonian, and with the aid of his human handler, Zach Barrows, he fights all the dark and forbidding nasties that conventional operatives cannot. His previous adventures have seen him come to blows with Osama-the-Lizard-Demon and zombie Nazi super-soldiers animated by Victor Frankenstein. Plus a shadowy occult cartel (or two).

It is all exactly as ridiculous as it sounds. 

In Red, White and Blood, Cade's up against his oldest foe: The Boogeyman. (Stop laughing.) The Boogeyman is something like The Saint of Killers, something like the anti-Christ and something very much like Jason from Friday the Thirteenth. He's an ancient spirit, worshipped by back-alley Satanists and corporate conspirators alike. Every generation or so, he arises - taking a mortal host and going on a killing spree. 

The Boogeyman is a meta-entity straight out of a (good) Wes Craven film. Phones die around him. The weather is always stormy when he appears. Luck always runs his way. He's never dead the first time (or the second) and he'll always kill the sexually active first. There are rules he must obey, but the game's hugely broken in has favour. Fortunately, he's always stuck to low-profile targets and he's always been out-fought by Cade.

That is, until now. 

This time, The Boogeyman's picked one doozy of a target: the President himself. Cade and Zach's first impulse (once Zach stops laughing) is to lock down the President. Keep him safe in the White House and far away from homicidal demon-gods. Except the President refuses: it is election season and he's getting hammered. His advisors say he needs to go on the road, and President Curtis would rather get re-elected than hide under the bed. Much to our heroes' chagrin, President Curtis packs up the family and goes on a trip around the Midwest... coincidentally, The Boogeyman's favourite stomping ground.

Cade and Zach need to stop The Boogeyman before he carves up the President and his family. But The Boogeyman has some friends of his own...

Again, this is every bit as ridiculous as it sounds.

So why is it so damn good?*

For one, Mr. Farnsworth is a master of pace. There's never a dull moment, and he balances the thrills between violence, sex, politics and emotional outbursts. Even the rare chapter where nothing happens will be used to great effect - a bit of mounting tension or some ominous foreshadowing. It was easy to race through Red, White and Blood, and once I hit the end, I was ready for the sequel.

The Cade series is also surprisingly smart, although never pretentious. There are dozens of tiny references to the rest of the genre - from Crystal Lake to "The Horror at Red Hook". Similarly, the author peppers the book with political references, both contemporary and historical, with figures from Ulysses Grant to Bill O'Reilly all making an appearance. The universe of Cade covers our own world, the Cthulhu Mythos and everything in-between. Critically, and this is what keeps Red, White and Blood from being self-congratulatory meta-wank - the adventure is still self-contained. A reader doesn't need to be conversant with horror movies to 'get it' - these tiny Easter Eggs make everything more fun, but aren't central to the thrills or the tension.

This intelligence is revealed within the plot as well. For something set up as a 'predictable' meta-horror novel, Red, White and Blood throws in a dozen surprises. Twists, turns, deaths, appearances... all good for keeping the reader on their toes. And, perhaps more importantly, Cade, Zach and the other key characters are smart. They come up with strong plans and clever schemes, very rarely resorting to the obvious. 

The series is frequently compared to Dan Brown (ostensibly as praise), but that does Christopher Farnsworth a disservice. Mr. Brown also has a fast-moving plots and excellent pace, but Mr. Farnsworth is the vastly superior writer - smarter and funnier. Whereas a Dan Brown thriller is written as the lowest common denominator of entertainment, Mr. Farnsworth vampiric pulp isn't afraid to challenge the reader at times. 

Smart, fun and wonderfully goofy, Mr. Farnsworth's series keeping bounding from strength to strength. He combines outlandish plots with captivating storytelling and the result is joyously and atmosphere contemporary pulp.

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*:Lavie Tidhar asked and answered this question already in his spectacular review, "Al-Qaeda Zombies and American Vampires"

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