The blacktop where the alley met the street crumbled in under the glow of a streetlamp. Beyond that, shadows.
They looked at the alley with their elbows poking out, their hands in their jacket pockets. A breeze lifted Dan’s hair at the back of his neck.
“It’s dark,” he said.
“Mmhmm.” The cigarette bobbed between Ray’s teeth. “Other option is walking up to those lights up there, over a block, then back down.”
Dan stiffled a yawn and blinked back the exhaustion prickling his eyes.
“Straight across is looking like a pretty sweet option right now,” Ray said.
“Okay but if the boogeyman jumps out, I’m shoving you in its direction. What with your handicap, I should be able to get away clean.”
“You’re a pal.” They stepped off the curb and crossed the empty street, traffic lights at the end of the block blinking yellow.
Dan and Ray are the backbone of a band that has had moderate success. Near the end of a long tour with Jamie the band’s drug-addled drummer and their road crew, they take a short-cut through an alley on the way back to their hotel room. There, in the dark, they meet something strange. Some flying thing, bat-like, but also unlike anything they’d ever seen. Dan is certain it bit him but he comes out of the encounter with no wounds to speak of. They call it a night and get back on the road the next day. But Dan begins to feel unwell. Through the end of the tour, and back home, his headaches, restlessness, and a relentless internal buzzing give way to violent outbursts that only drinking human blood will quench. It is the beginning of a parasitic outbreak that will come to threaten all of humanity.
On face value, this novel shouldn’t work. Firstly, who needs another vampire novel? Secondly, rock musicians? Give me a break. But it soon gives way to a convincing apocalypse and survival story with the friendship between Dan and Ray right at the centre. No matter how much the demands of the new reality might stretch credulity, their friendship is up for everything including disposing of dead animals, harvesting blood from human donors and donating one’s own blood to the point of illness. I was really touched by their friendship and I genuinely cared about them. This is more like a zombie tale than a seductive vampire story, the infected are violent and animalistic in their quest for more blood. As society falls apart Dan and Ray find themselves in possession of unique survival skills. But will it be enough?
This is a quick and enjoyable read, well versed in the tropes of the genre but brave enough to be original while travelling a well worn path. Rider seemed to drop new characters in without much introduction, which became a little confusing, but this story is all about the bromance so I plowed on regardless. The ending didn’t seem to explain anything either and, while epilogue was satisfying, it left me with a lot of questions. All of that aside, this is classic horror full of heart, perfectly paced and with a new imagination driving it. Well worth a read.
Read it when: you need to remember that blood drinking isn’t all about sparkling teenage romance.
I received a free Kindle version from the publisher via NetGalley.