April 10, 2008


X-Rated Blood Suckers. By Mario Acevedo. Eos. $7.99.

The Undead Kama Sutra. By Mario Acevedo. Eos. $13.95.

      It didn’t take Mario Acevedo long to go from mediocre to mighty good. His first book, The Nymphos of Rocky Flats, never quite knew what it wanted to be. It was about a vampire detective who became undead after something horrific that happened in Iraq, and who soon found himself trying to solve mysteries back in the U.S.A. while constantly fighting his urge to drink human blood. Despite some titillation value – which brought to the fore the sexuality inherent in vampire lore since the days of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, if not before – the book simply tried to do too much, exploring Felix Gomez’s thoughts and past, pulling in non-vampiric supernatural beings without alerting the reader in advance, and never making much sense of the “I need blood but won’t take it” concept, which became merely a device to keep Gomez’s powers weak so he could be repeatedly ambushed and beaten up.

      Wow, did Acevedo improve with his second book, X-Rated Blood Suckers! He dropped the “drink or not drink” idea, replacing it with Gomez’s weary realization that, as a predator, he has no choice but to find prey. He gave Gomez a dose of smarts – he still gets into lots of trouble, but not because of the unremitting dimness that initially made him a less-than-attractive protagonist. And he gave Gomez a sexual focus that not only provides titillation but also gives the books about him some connective tissue. Gomez simply seems to attract sex-tinged cases with more than the usual dose of weirdness. X-Rated Blood Suckers begins with him being hired by porn star Katz Meow (real name: Wilma Pettigrew) to find out who killed her porn co-star, Roxy Bronze. Acevedo throws out coincidence after coincidence to get the story moving – his plots still tend to show their seams – but this time, the holes in the story serve to get it moving rather than to slow it down as it goes. (For instance, it turns out that Gomez encountered Roxy well before her porn days and has pleasant memories of her kindness.) Gomez’s powers have good and consistent value here: he can hypnotize humans and put them to sleep or find out whether they are telling the truth, and his kundalini noir – “that black serpent of energy that animates the undead” – gives him a variety of warnings, although they are not always useful. Gomez finds himself doing the bidding of the shadowy Araneum, which acts to preserve vampires by preventing humans from learning of their existence; he gets entangled with a local vampire biggie who is also a suspect in Roxy’s murder; and there is even some speculation about a land grab as a murder motive, in Chinatown style. Gomez is still working to balance his vampirism with some distinctly human urges: “Okay, so it was creepy of me to hypnotize a woman and think about copping a feel. But I’m a vampire, not a Boy Scout.” But he’s basically a good guy, perhaps a little light in the brains department (like many fictional detectives), who finds himself in over his head (also like many fictional detectives) but eventually claws his way to an understanding that some things can be even more dangerous than vampires.

      And at the very end of X-Rated Blood Suckers, he gets a new assignment from the Araneum – which brings him (and readers) to The Undead Kama Sutra. Actually, it also brings him (and readers) back to The Nymphos of Rocky Flats, whose sprawling plot is quickly disposed of at the start of the new book, which places Gomez with the dying “Gilbert Odin, or, rather, the alien who masqueraded as my abducted and long-deceased friend from college” (which should give you some idea of just how convoluted Acevedo’s first book was). “The last I’d seen of Odin was years ago,” Gomez says, “after he’d hired me to investigate an outbreak of nymphomania at the Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant in Colorado. He knew the nymphomania was caused by a special isotope of red mercury leaking from a UFO the government had squirreled away, but he hadn’t bothered to fill me in. I had to uncover that on my own.” The description is far more coherent than the book was – but never mind; here it is a jumping-off point for a much better and more tightly written story. The Undead Kama Sutra is, on one level, an aliens-want-Earth-women story like those prevalent in bad science fiction since time immemorial. It is also, on another level, a sendup of those stories. It revolves in part around a doomed airplane flight that is missing two passengers who were supposed to be aboard; in part around a stunning and deadly vampire sexpert named Carmen; and in large part around a mysterious and elusive man named Dan Goodman. Acevedo has become sufficiently adept stylistically so that he produces more than a few good lines: “Sex was just another language that existed between the undead. Undead friends with undead benefits.” “Vampires are immune to many human afflictions but, unfortunately, alcoholism wasn’t one of them, and many vampires found themselves on skid row.” Eventually Gomez has to deal with a “repulsive dwarf [that] belonged in a freak show from hell,” and an out-of-this-world situation that is sure to be central to Acevedo’s next book – which, if his writing and plotting continue to improve, is likely to be even better than this one.

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