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The Past | The Previous

So, yeah, books fourteen and fifteen in the fifty two books a year challenge are Theft, by Peter Carey, and Already Dead, by Charlie Huston.*

Of the two books, it's actually the Huston Vampire Semen Chandler book that is more interesting. I know, I'm shocked too. Before Already Dead, Huston had written two crime novels, Caught Stealing, and Six Bad Things, neither of which I've read, but which I've heard good things about. For some reason--possibly a stroke while I was clicking--I ended up buy his latest, the vampire noir novel, Already Dead instead of those two, but I did okay anyhow, so I can't complain.

Already Dead is a straight lift of Chandler to a vampire infested New York, complete with different clans al la Vampire the Masquerade, and a lone vampire called Joe Pitt who is hired to find a person who is infecting people with a zombie plague, and a lost teenage girl. On that level, it's not a bad book. Huston's command of the crime genre (in particular this noir detective side) is pretty strong, so there's no complaints with the plot that drives the book. What he has going for him is that, unlike a lot of vampire novels, he's thrown the sex out the window. Instead, Huston gives Pitt a girlfriend who has AIDS, and who won't sleep with him because of this, while never knowing that the reason he won't sleep with her is because he is afraid his vampire semen will rip through his condom and get inside her womb and infect her totally while turning her into a vampire. Of course, Huston never describes it in this way, and it actually works within the confines of the novel, but still, I can't resist myself, and there's that little ditty and me calling it the Vampire Semen Chandler Book.

Still, you know what, it's a light, fun little read. It's got a bit of the noir style, a bit of the old violence, a bit of a mystery, and the vampire side doesn't feel tacked on. If Huston does a sequel, I'll be there.

Carey's book on the other hand, is just kind of boring.

Theft is a better written book than Already Dead, but that's hardly a surprise. Prose wise, Carey is a hugely accomplished author with a broad range, and there is delight to be taken in reading his two first person narrators, the artist Michael "Butcher" Bones, and his mentally challenged brother, Hugh. Unfortunately, it's the only delight to be taken in the book, as the romance or mystery elements of the book are pretty flat.

The problem is, I think, that Carey uses the unreliable narrator of Hugh, and his voice just isn't very conductive to building up the narrative tension:

Phthaaa! We are Bones, God help us, raised in sawdust, dry each morning. I am called Hugh and he is called Butcher but the pair of us are meat men, not river men, not beggars hidden in damp shacks with floods and mud and mould, with a hook hanging from the front verandah to skin the eels.


Now, compare this to the detail driven voice of Butcher:

I owned not so much as a Band-Aid but there was no shortage of Corio whisky to disinfect my brother's bleeding chine and on this whiskery site the toilet tissue caught, leaving behind little flowers like sheep's wool on barbed wire. Watching Marlene gently collect and flick away these blossoms, I could not have cared if she had stolen a painting or robbed the State Bank of Victoria.


As you can see there, the voice of Butcher is concerned with the present, and the future, while the voice of Hugh is concerned with the past, and the present. In a perfect world, of course, the two would have meshed, and Carey would have neatly filled in the reader on the two brothers lives, which, to an extent, he does. The problem with this, however, is that it is only Butcher who is concerned with the plot that drives the book, and thus, since the chapters roughly go Butcher-Hugh-Butcher-Hugh you're always being pulled out of that. The problem that settles on the reader, then, is that you just find yourself going, "why am I reading this?"

Well, I read it because Carey is delightful prose, and I love watching him make those voices that tell the story. Ultimately, however, it does leave Theft as a book without a compelling drive for the author, which is a shame, because by its romance, mystery plot, it needs this to work. If you're considering buying it, however, I recommend the Australian edition--that American edition I linked at the start has an ugly cover on it.




* Yes, yes, I'm doing badly by the looks of it. It's the middle of the year and I've read fifteen books, but, y'know, I lost two months to about six or seven books for the thesis, some time to being brain dead, and I've actually read about four collections half way through. So I'm doing a little better than these numbers suggest.