Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Summoning

Bentley Little, as I’ve said before, is a writer whose books I always enjoy, but has never written anything that knocked me out. To use a sports metaphor, he’s the dependable singles hitter who doesn’t homer (or strikeout) the way the sluggers do.

One of the Little titles I’ve always missed is his debut, The Summoning. It won a Stoker award, but Little switched publishers and the PBO was a little hard to find, and once I had it, since it is the longest of Little’s books I have seen, it got pushed back in the stack. Now that I’ve finally gotten around to it, I have to revise my impression of Little, because I thought this was a home run.

The vampire is the most durable trope of horror fiction, and I’ve always felt that eventually, every horror writer has to take a shot at their own interpretation. This is Little’s version, and he does a much better job than most. The story is set in the fictitious Rio Verde, Arizona, and the isolation and loneliness of the desert setting work very well in developing the sense of dread and fear needed in this type of story. Jaded though I am, a few of the scenes gave me a rare sense of unease.

Rather than the traditional western image of the vampire, in The Summoning, Chinese legend is used. Instead of garlic and crosses, this vampire is warded off by jade and willow, and in addition to feeding off humans, drawn the fluid (all fluids, not just blood) from animals and even plants. There are a number of grisly yet effective scenes, such as when the town sheriff discovers all the bodies at the cemetery have been dug up in order for the vampire to get at their bone marrow. Fortunately for the locals, the Chinese family who owns a local restaurant knows a little about Chinese mythology and is able to offer help.

A subplot involves religious hysteria/vampiric influence that is as big a menace to the town as the vampire itself, which is a familiar motif in Little’s work. It also plays well in this book.

One of the refreshing things about the story was how quickly everyone comes around to the idea their problems are the work of a vampire. Usually, half of one of these novels consists of the main characters coming to grips with the idea of the supernatural, so we’re spared that here.

If you haven’t read anything by Bentley Little, this is a good place to start. If you have read his work but not this one, you should check it out.

1 comment:

Fran Friel said...

I've yet to read BL, so thanks for the recommendation. Sounds like a good place to start.

Have a marvelous holiday, Kent!

Holiday Hugs from Snowy CT,