Sunday, November 14, 2010

Knuckle Supper

Knuckle Supper (hardcover)
Author: Drew Stepek
Publisher: Alphar/$25.72
Date of Publication: 2010
Reviewed by James J. Gormley (member, National Book Critics Circle)

The other day I was telling Drew Stepek, fellow HWA member and the author of a new vampire book, Knuckle Supper, that despite the fact that his vampire-canon-busting novel is one of the most disgusting, unrelentingly violent and horrifying horror works I have ever read, the over-the-top violence and gore are not gratuititous.

Without giving away the story (which I won't), the leader of a group of heroin-addicted vampires, RJ, has the normal abnormalcy of his own chaotic, blood-and-drug-hazed existence challenged when he reluctantly takes in a 12-year-old runaway girl, Bait Jenkins.

When a drug deal goes south and RJ's gang, The Knucklers, winds up with an unexpected windfall, it isn't long before rival gangs (from Rastas to transvestite prostitutes to argyle-wearing preppies) start taking revenge and jockeying for the pole position in the vampire-run L.A. drug trade.

And to make matters worse, seemingly pulling the strings behind the L.A. vamps is a group of breakaway religious fanatics called The Cloth and a wannabe nun and psychopath nicknamed The Habit, who not only seem to know everything about where R.J. and his junkie gangster allies and rivals actually come from but who want to pull the plug on their twisted experiment.

In the book, R.J. says: "I don't know why we're alive or what purpose we have besides delivering misery and death, I can tell you one thing though; there is something human in us all."

And true enough to R.J.'s revelation, while various types of exploitation form the lives or the backgrounds of almost all of the players in this bloodfest, Stepek is masterful in enabling us to actually feel sorrow and empathy for a few of the characters (not only R.J. and Bait) and to see the human in the monsters and the monster in the humans.

With gangs reminiscent of the crews in Walter Hill's 1979 film, The Warriors, there are intentional and unintentional homages to a range of movies and horrific classics from A Clockwork Orange to Trainspotting.

Knuckle Supper is a game changer, to be sure, and this has got to be one of the most original vampire works ever created; with it, Stepek turns the entire vampire mythos on its head and fully slays the almost-dead,angst-ridden, sparkly vampire once and for all.

Bravo, Drew, bravissimo!