Thursday, November 10, 2022


Shade, by David Darke
May, 1994  Zebra Books

Yet another horror paperback I picked up some years ago but never read, Shade is a (sort of) latter-day Zebra PBO that is copyright Ron Dee. If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like if Anne Rice herself was a vampire, this might be the book for you. The only problem is, Dee is a pretty clunky author, with a tendency for confusing sentences and vague description. That said, the novel is filled with depraved, graphic sex, so there’s that! 

Not sure why Dee even bothered with his “David Darke” pseudonym, as his name’s stated on the copyright page, and he also craftily mentions his own novels in Shade. But it looks like he was pretty prolific under either name, however this is the only of his novels I have (I think). He certainly tries to bring to life the world of sci-fi and horror conventions, but I’m assuming there must be some tongue-in-cheekery at play because, in Dee’s world, only total losers read horror novels, particularly vampire novels…and all of them dream of being vampires themselves. This I found so puzzling that I immediately had a disconnect with Shade; I mean vampires are cool in novels, but I’ve never read say Salem’s Lot and thought to myself – “Hey, I wish I was a vampire!” 

Dee calls this subset of horror readers “convamps,” ie vampire novel enthusiasts who congregate at horror conventions and pretend to be vampires themselves. Only, in the case of this novel they’ve been killing themselves at the conventions…all so as to become real vampires…all at the inspiration of the wildly popular horror novels of Scarlett Shade. The Anne Rice analog of the novel, Scarlett Shade – we learn on the first page, not to mention on the back cover – is herself secretly a vampire. What’s more, one that uses her vast network of fans for her own personal blood supply. Dee doesn’t waste any time bringing us into this sordid tale; literally the first 50 or so pages are comprised of various one-off characters having sex in fairly graphic fashion and killing each other in the process. 

And it’s so weird as to be jarring, because as mentioned Dee’s powers of description often fail him and the reader (at least this one) often has to re-read sections to figure out what the hell is going on. For example, the book opens with a convamp guy dressing up as Count Downe for a convention, the vampire protagonist of Scarlett Shade’s famous series of novels. Then a hotstuff gal comes over, the spitting image of Countess Showery, the female vampire co-protagonist of the Shade novels, and this dude can’t believe his luck. Then “Countess Showery” turns out to be his buddy, dressed in drag for the convention…and after a chuckle the two dudes look in the mirror, see themselves as the “real” Count Downe and Countess Showery…and start having sex! “He slipped inside her hot, tight hole,” and etc. Uh, okay… 

Dee is just getting started with the depravity. I mean Shade is kind of wonderful in how grimy it is. We get another one-off character, this one an unhappily married woman whose husband forces her to suck him off every night(!), and she too imagines herself as Countess Showery, also seeing herself as the “real” vampire-babe in the mirror. “Suck me, please,” instructs her husband, and next thing you know the unhappy housewife is imagining she has fangs and then she’s, uh…biting it off… 

Even crazier is an ensuing sequence in which a wanna be reporter named Teresa, who used to be a stripper (and who had casual sapphic flings with other strippers), gets the coup of interviewing Scarlett Shade herself. A hotbod beauty with long red hair, Shade has been reclusive for the past three years; we’re informed she went out of the public view once so many of her fans began committing suicide. Also, Shade herself supposedly has sapphic tendencies…so Teresa starts unbuttoning her top during the interview to show off her cleavage. This leads to a full-on lesbian sequence between the two, one which of course has an unhappy end for poor Teresa – Scarlett Shade has gleefully admitted to Teresa that she is a vampire, and cannot let the truth out. 

Our heroes, such as they are, turn out to be a pair of casual lovers named Phil and Connie. Folks these two were about enough to make me toss the book. A pair of more self-centered individuals you will rarely meet in fiction. Phil, who runs a genre-themed bookstore in Oklahoma, was witness to all sorts of horrors as a child in Czhechoslovakia, and lately he’s been having nightmares and headaches about it. Phil suffers from a lot of nightmares and headaches in Shade, to the extent that he starts to come off like a Southern Belle suffering the vapors. I mean this dude is pure prima donna in the book, just as annoying as shit. 

But Connie’s even worse. She makes jewelry, but also works at a WaldenBooks (remember those??), and she’s just gotten divorced (as has Phil) and she’s had casual sex with Phil, but she’s not sure…she kinda likes good-looking but going-nowhere wanna-be writer Gary. Connie’s had a few abortions in the past (Phil asks her exactly how many at one point and Connie throws a fit!!), and Dee ultimately uses this to reinforce the theme of Connie’s self-centeredness, that she actually “killed the life” that was growing in her (dangerous ground for a writer to tread upon in today’s world!). Oh and when we meet her, Connie’s dining at the Y with her galpal Vicki…the latter’s been pushing for a little lesbian action for quite a while. I mean seriously, there’s a lot of dining at the Y in Shade

So anyway, long story short – all these people, we soon learn, are victims of Scarlett Shade. Like Phil, for example. He briefly met the famous author at some convention, and now Phil’s having all those flashbacks and nightmares, and plus he’s got these bite-like wounds on him that only show up in the mirror. This I thought was the one novel element of Shade, though it takes forever for the reader to figure out what’s going on: Scarlett Shade uses mirrors in her vampiric pursuits, flitting in and out of them like a ghost and emerging into the lives of her victims. This is why all those one-off characters were seeing themselves as Shade’s characters in the mirror in the opening of the novel, it was Shade possessing them. 

Dee stuffs Shade with a lot of in-jokery. He mentions a few “out of print books by Ron Dee” at a horror convention, and genre personalities like Tim Powers and Edward Bryant are mentioned. Dee also namedrops several real-world horror novels in Shade. However he does not really bring to life the novels of Scarlett Shade, and why exactly they’d be so wildly popular is not very clear…cause they sound lame as hell. Actually we don’t know much about them, other than that there are several of them and they seem to occur in the past, with castles and whatnot. They’ve got titles like “Vampire Bordello” and stuff like that, and they’re billed as “erotic horror.” We do get the first chapter of one of the books, printed in almost unreadable italics, and it’s all so goofy that it has to be more in-jokery on Dee’s part. 

One of the highlights of Shade is the subplot concerning Teresa, the aforementioned reporter who has sex with Shade. So as it turns out, when Scarlett Shade terminally sucks someone’s blood, the victim wakes up in their coffin…and will be stuck there for eternity unless they can use their dwindling power to project themselves as a corporal being aboveground and suck a victim’s blood. Teresa is one of the few Shade victims who figures this out, and the most fun part of the book concerns her gradual aims for revenge. She also figures out how Shade uses mirrors. But even here Dee can’t refrain from the goofiness, with Teresa projecting herself in clothing similar to a TV reporter she loved as a kid: Kolchak the Night Stalker! 

Indeed, Teresa is so fun that it only makes you hate loser Phil and self-centered Connie even more. Gradually they too figure out what’s going on (that is, once Phil’s bothered to get out of bed), but it takes too many of the book’s 348 pages for that to happen. (Though true to Zebra tradition, those 348 pages are some big ol’ print.) The problem is, they’re not just self-involved but also stupid. Denial seems to be a trope of the horror genre (ie “There’s no such thing as vampires!” and such), and boy does Dee drive this trope into the ground. Despite their increasing torpor, strange wounds that only appear in mirrors, and increasing taste for blood, these two morons still refuse to believe that Scarlett Shade is really a vampire. 

It's hard to say which of the two is the more annoying. When he isn’t passing out or popping aspirin, Phil acts like a petulant child. Connie meanwhile ignores all mounting evidence that vampires exist, fully buying the story that these “convamps” are committing suicide…even though their bodies are drained of blood. Even when casual bedmate Gary “kills himself,” right after meeting Scarlett Shade, Connie still doesn’t put two and two together. Only after she’s had yet another dining at the Y session with her galpal Vicki does Connie realize something is going on…because Vicki loses control of herself and starts biting Connie “down there.” I say, there are some squirm-inducing parts in Shade. However it isn’t too outrageous, because Dee’s tongue is clearly in cheek throughout: 

Or even:

Dee has a much better plot with Teresa putting together an army of the undead to take on Scarlett Shade, but instead he puts more focus on Phil and Connie. Teresa is by far the more interesting character here; her discovery of how Shade uses mirrors trumps anything Phil and Connie manage to do. Unfortunately it’s Phil and Connie’s bumbling that makes up the lame climax; even in the finale Phil manages to pass out. But then the entire novel is preposterous, and it’s to Dee’s credit that he doesn’t try to make things “seriously.” In sum Shade is a sordid horror novel positively filled with kinky sex, only undone by its unlikable characters and Dee’s sometimes-confusing prose. 

Since finishing Shade I’ve started reading another horror novel I picked up years ago, one that turns out to have a very similar plot: Warren Netwon Beath’s Bloodletter, also from 1994. It too deals with the author of a wildly successful series of vampire novels who himself might be a vampire. However it’s vastly superior to Shade.


tarbandu said...

Sh*t, I just went and blew $22 on three Ron Dee / David Darke Paperbacks from Hell. I need to stay away from 'Glorious Trash'. I still have all four 'Mutants Amok' books that I went and impulse-purchased after a trip to 'Trash', and none of which I yet have read..........

TLP said...

I have the same problem! I always say I'm going to cut my book purchases, but a trip to this blog always wrecks such a notion. That's a testament to how good Joe's reviews truly are.

-Alan D Hopewell said...

I read a number of David Darke's novels back in the day (not proud), and I recall wondering if he chose that nom de plume hoping that impulse buyers might confuse him with the author David Drake.
I read more Zebra vamp novels than was probably healthy, and the only thing that I remember from any of them is a storyline about Nazi vampires at the North Pole... maybe the South was cold.

Will Errickson said...

Ron Dee "wrote" one of the worst published books I've ever read, DESCENT, from the Dell/Abyss line. I don't think an editor or proofreader saw it from the time it left Mr. Dee's possession until it was at the printer's! Unreadable sludge, and what was readable either made no sense or was so embarrassing that you wished you hadn't read it.