Thursday, April 27, 2023

Son Of Famous Monsters Of Filmland

Son Of Famous Monsters Of Filmland
March, 1965  Paperback Library

I first discovered Famous Monsters Of Filmland when I was very young; it was probably around 1979 or 1980, and I would’ve been six or so. Coincidentally, the same age my son is now. My brother is seven years older than me and he had some recent or fairly recent issues of the magazine, somehow, and I remember looking through them. In particular I was really into the ads for the Don Post monster masks. I can’t recall which issues these were, but I’d love to know. 

Anyway, this must’ve been the tail end of the Famous Monsters Of Filmland era, but just a decade or so before the magazine had been the go-to source for Monster Kids (bonus question – can anyone confirm that Glenn Danzig created this term, in his 1981 Misfits song “All Hell Breaks Loose?” Or was the term “monster kids” in use before that?). At the height of the magazine’s fame, three collections were published by Paperback Library, each of them overseen by editor Forrest J. Ackerman: Best From Famous Monsters Of Filmland (1964), Son Of Famous Monsters Of Filmland (1965), and Famous Monsters Of Filmland Strike Back (1965). All three are collectable today and thus go for exorbitant prices. But I wanted to read at least one of them, so for a lark I put in a request via for an Interlibary Loan. 

And folks, a library actually sent me a copy! Not only that, but it turns out the copy I was sent once belonged to famed comic artist/horror historian Stephen Bissette: 

In one of those synchronicities only Jung could appreciate, with the same Interlibrary Loan delivery I also received the 2010 collection The Weird World Of Eerie Publications, which guess what, features an intro by none other than Stephen Bissette:

One thing that made me chuckle is that the cover of Son Of Famous Monsters Of Filmland is a typically-awesome Basil Gogos painting of Bela Lugosi as the Frankenstein Monster, from Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man. And yet, the book itself is dedicated to the recently-departed Boris Karloff! I kind of imagine Bela got a chuckle from beyond the grave over that. And speaking of which, a similarly-mordant tone permeates the articles collected here. We’re often told of how Bela Lugosi died…maybe…because he might really be a vampire who thirsts for blood! This sort of churlish disregard for “proper respect for the dead” wouldn’t exist in a publication of today, but then I’d wager it was that very tone that made Famous Monsters Of Filmland so beloved by the readers of the day. 

But anwyway, Ackerman delivers an intro in which he states unequivocably that in his opinion Boris Karloff was the greatest horror actor of all time. From then we are jettisoned into the wily-nilly collection of Famous Monsters articles, with no attribution of when they were published, nor any theme holding them together. It’s basically like a paperback-sized version of your standard issue, only without a letters page or any ads. The black and white photo and art is faithfully reproduced, though, to the extent that the majority of Son Of Famous Monsters Of Filmland comes off like a picture book:

Articles cover everything from histories on Karloff and Lugosi to the magazine’s well-known rundowns of movies; the latter must have been very important in the days before VCRs and DVDs and whatnot, as you get a thorough recounting of the plot along with pictures from the film. There’s also weird stuff, like a piece – again published long after Lugosi had died – that claims Bela Lugosi was haunted by some golden-eyed witch, who would pop up at memorable times in his life. This piece is just weird, mostly because it’s an apocryphal story about a guy who died in the ‘50s with nothing to substantiate it. But then that just goes with the unruly spirit of Famous Monsters Of Filmland, where nothing was sacred. 

I especially dug the piece on the Flash Gordon serial, even though it’s just a high-level overview of the plot for the three Flash Gordon serials with Buster Crabbe. This one has always had a special place for me; I discovered the serial in early 1988 when I was 13. I was at a K-Mart or something and they had a VHS with the first two chapters of the original 1936 serial and I asked my mom to buy it for me. In hindsight I have to laugh because the jerks were so cheap, I mean it was a video tape that even on SP mode could’ve held two hours, but they only put like 40 minutes on the damn tape (I can’t recall exactly how long each serial chapter was). I watched that damn thing over and over and even then I knew I had to be the only 13-year-old in probably a few hundred miles who even knew who Buster friggin’ Crabbe was. But man I loved that and it wasn’t until decades later that I finally got to see the whole serial, when I purchased the now out-of-print Image Flash Gordon DVD set (which also contained the other two Buster Crabbe serials). Here are some shots of the piece on this one:

In addition we get some of the plot rundowns of various horror movies that Famous Monsters was known for, as well as a biographical pieces on Lugosi and Karloff. There’s also a long piece by Robert Bloch, originally published in another film magazine, which goes into Bloch’s definition of what a “true” science fiction movie is. The humorous thing about this one is the preface that the article is more “sophisticated” than what readers of the magazine might be use to…either Ackerman’s acknowledgement that his readership is mostly made up of kids or he’s just implying his readers are dimwitted. That said, Bloch’s piece is at odds with everything else here, totally lacking the fun spirit of the typical Famous Monsters article and coming off like dry pontificating instead. 

Overall Son Of Famous Monsters Of Filmland offers a fun peek at a long-gone era, and I’m sure it was hotly collected by the Monster Kids of the day; no doubt the reason copies are so scarce today. So then, a big thanks to Stephen Bissette for giving his copy to the John Dewey Library, so that those of us out here who just want to read the book (and not collect it) can have the opportunity to do so.

Monday, April 24, 2023

The Executioner #18: Texas Storm

The Executioner #18: Texas Storm, by Don Pendleton
March, 1974  Pinnacle Books

By this 18th installment of The Executioner hero Mack Bolan is essentially a superhero; he plows through the Mafia presence in Texas without breaking a sweat, coming off like such a figure of myth that there’s even a bizarre bit where Bolan, in his black commando suit and with grenades and guns and etc dangling from his shoulders, walks into a hotel and starts talking to the receptionist while the hotel guests scramble in fear at the sight of The Executioner himself. I mean no one calls the cops or anything…but then even if they did, the cops would probably pat Bolan on the back. 

I mean that’s the sort of series Don Pendleton is writing at this point. Literally nothing is hard for Mack Bolan anymore, despite the tension Pendleton tries to develop. Hal Brognola, the “head Fed” who is supposed to be bringing Bolan down, is literally chauffered around Dallas by Bolan himself while the two men discuss the Mafia’s latest plan. There’s also a go-nowhere subplot about the “Bolan bunch,” a team of (supposedly) hardbitten Mafia exterminators, who are serving as the new Talifero brothers (ie the previous Mafia killsquad that was after Bolan in earlier volumes), and Bolan constantly makes them look like fools. He’s not even concerned by their presence, seeing them mainly as a nuissance. At this point we’re basically in the same sort of vibe as The Destroyer, but it’s sort of more funny here because you can tell Pendleton doesn’t have his tongue in his cheek. He means it, man. 

There’s no real pickup from the previous volume, but we’re immediately informed that we’re in a new, superhero-esque tone for The Executioner in that Bolan now has his own personal pilot: this would be Jack Grimaldi, a former Mafia pilot who went over to Bolan’s side in a previous volume. The last installment ended with Bolan taking a nap as Grimaldi headed his plane elsewhere; Texas Storm opens some indeterminate time later, with Bolan again in a plane piloted by Grimaldi, but he’s not taking a nap, he’s ready to stage an assault on a Mafia hardsite in the Texas midlands. And the action scenes that ensues follows previous ones, with Bolan all-too-easily wading through superior numbers with his Auto Mag and Beretta pistols, blasting hapless Mafia stooges to hell. 

The thing is, we don’t really get an idea why Bolan is here. He suspects something rotten with the oil business, but it takes almost the entire novel to find out what exactly it is. The main thing is that here Bolan saves a nude and stacked gal (presumably a blonde, per Gil Cohen’s cover) named Judith Klingman, who is being kept drugged and locked away by the Mafia. Judith’s dad is a famous oil baron or somesuch; Pendleton delivers some of his lovably-goofy dialog here, with Bolan and Judith discussing things in the safety of a hotel later on. One thing I’ve noticed is that Pendleton will introduce some gimmick in the narrative or dialog and hammer it past the point of being funny; for example, Judith and Bolan, apropos of nothing, start discussing things in football terms. For like a few pages. 

Another recurring gimmick Pendleton uses throughout Texas Storm is referring to “numbers” Bolan is always up against. “The numbers were running down,” and etc, etc, to the point that it gets annoying. I mean the guy has a template and he’s sticking to it. But unlike Mack Bolan, Don Pendleton was not a superhero, so one can understand his struggling to keep up with the writing pace Pinnacle Books put on him. It’s just that Texas Storm seems to be building and building to something, but various subplots are just dropped (Judith Klingman flat-out disappears from the narrative after this opening scene, only to show up again at the very end), and when climactic events do happen, Bolan waltzes through the situation with nary a concern. 

I mean take that Bolan Bunch deal. So there’s a lot of buildup, these new Mafia killers, coming down to Texas to get Bolan, etc. As soon as the bastards show up, we have one of those series staples where Pendleton writes things from the mobster point of view, and “that bastard Bolan” swoops out of nowhere and ambushes them. But this time it’s particularly goofy. Bolan, hanging on a telephone poll and in a worker uniform, shoots at these guys from half a mile away and they’re all panicking as he blasts apart the house -- but doesn’t kill any of them. I mean seriously. Bolan at this point is like a cat toying with a mouse. Pendleton tries his best to explain away why Bolan doesn’t kill these guys, something about how instilling fear is just as important, etc. It’s kind of lame. It’s also humorous to imagine a guy just hanging on a telephone pole and blasting away at a big house half a mile away and no one even calls the cops on him. But then again, the cops would probably show up and provide cover support for him. 

The plot is pretty prescient, though. Bolan, with his usual omnipotence in regards to the inner workings of the Mafia, eventually gets wind of “Flag Seven,” a plan started by oil man Klingman (apparently), which has something to do with Texas becoming a separate country. There are “extremists” today who are pushing for that very thing, but the irony here is that the Mafia has taken over Klingman’s plan mostly due to the ownership it would give them of Texas oil. It was interesting to read all this from the perspective of our era…though on a side note, I did see something the other week that made me laugh out loud, and I wish I’d taken a photo of it. There was a truck outside of someone’s house, a Tesla-branded truck that was there to set up the electric charging station or whatever in the person’s home…and folks, the Tesla-branded truck was a standard gasoline engine truck. I mean that pretty much said it all, and damn I wish I’d taken a photo. 

Well anyway, that’s the plot of Texas Storm, as exposited for us in the long scene where Bolan drives Brognola around Dallas. Also I have to say, at no point did I get the impression that Pendleton had ever been to Dallas; there was no attempt at bringing the city or its environs to life, and the book could just as easily have taken place anywhere else. Bolan doesn’t even spend any time with many locals; both Klingman senior and his busty daughter are minor presences in the book. The latter as mentioned only returns in the final pages…where Bolan, again apropos of nothing, apparently decides he wants to get laid (because how many volumes has it been?). He then makes insinuating comments to Judith that he needs a “nurse” for some “r&r,” even specifying that he needs this nurse for “three days.” While Judith says she isn’t a nurse, she’s all for the “r&r” point, so I guess we’re to assume there’s some boinkery in the Executioner’s future. Not that Pendleton tells us about it, for the novel ends here. 

The most interesting thing about Texas Storm is how it’s all such a cakewalk for Mack Bolan, even though Pendleton tries his hardest to make it all seem tense. But Pendleton constantly undermines his own tension. Like there’s another part, toward the end, where a big deal is made out of all the “electronic” sensors and stuff the Mafia has set up around a hardsite to keep the Executioner at bay. But Bolan, again dropped off by Grimaldi, blows through all this stuff with such ease that we’re only told about it in passing. Hell, even the majority of the Bolan Bunch is wiped outt off-page. “It was [Bolan’s] kind of fight,” Pendleton states a few times in the narrative. To the point that you wonder what kind of fight isn’t his kind. 

But at this point, 18 volumes in, you pretty much know what you’re getting with The Executioner. I did feel that Pendleton was a bit “off” with this particular installment, though.

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Jefferson Boone, Handyman #4: The Swiss Secret

Jefferson Boone, Handyman #4: The Swiss Secret, by Jon Messmann
September, 1974  Pyramid Books

At this point Jon Messmann has essentially turned Jefferson Boone, Handyman into a mystery series; what little action that does occur in The Swiss Secret is over quick and also bogged down by Messmann’s nigh-endless sentences, lacking any of the tension one would expect from such scenes. The main “action” of this fourth installment concerns Jefferson “Jeff” Boone, the Handyman, trying to figure out why two billion dollars has disappeared from a few Swiss bank accounts, and what nefarious means the money will be used for. And also there’s a girl who seems to fall in love with Jeff and incessantly nags, doubts, and disobeys him throughout the entire novel. I mean it’s like they’re already married. 

There’s no pickup from the previous volume, but then there hasn’t been much continuity in Jefferson Boone, Handyman. Jeff (as Messmann refers to him) is in Paris taking a vacation – or “holiday,” as he refers to it. I realized one of the things I don’t like about this series is that Jeff Boone, ostensibly a roving freelancer for the US government, doesn’t even come off like an American. He’s constantly saying stuff like, “I haven’t a gun,” and the like. I guess Messmann’s trying to convey that Jeff has a continental background or whatever, but Americans just don’t talk like that. It almost gives the impression that the series is British, and the sluggish pace, nigh-endless-sentences, and penchant for quoting poetry doesn’t help things. 

Well anyway, Jeff’s in Paris when we meet up with him, taking a well-deserved vacation. And of course he’s managed to pick up some chick: Meredith Pryor, a daughter of minor British royalty. Here we get Messmann’s patented “sex scene where you don’t know what’s really happening” material, with Dean Koontz-approved stuff like “cresting waves” and whatnot instead of the hardcore filth us sleazebags want. All this takes a sudden detour when Jeff and Meredith go to dinner at a bistro, and some guys with guns come in, and Meredith is killed in the crossfire. 

Here The Swiss Secret takes on its mystery vibe. Jeff will spend the rest of the novel trying to figure out if and why Meredith was involved with a scheme in which a combined two billion dollars have been snuck out of a few Swiss bank accounts. Messmann adds some pizzaz to the storyline with the appearance of Dianna (yes, with two “ns”), whose memorable intro has her blasting away at Jeff with a .38 while calling him a “rotter.” Again, the book just seems British. But then, Dianna herself is British, and what’s more she’s the sister of Meredith Pryor (and of course the daughter of Lord Pryor), and she’s after Jeff for revenge – info on the underground has it that Jeff and Meredith were working together on something, even though they weren’t, and thus the assumption is Meredith was killed because of Jeff. 

Messmann seems to have been inspired by Goldfinger, what with the Jill and Tilly Materton bit of the dead sister and the surviving sister who is now hunting the killers for revenge. Messmann’s even more overt with the girl’s name, ie “Dianna,” as in the ancient goddess of the hunt Diana. In fact it’s a wonder Messmann doesn’t have Jeff refer to The Golden Bough in this one, I mean something like that would be right in-line with our “phallic and literate” hero. But as mentioned in previous reviews Jeff’s a prick when it comes to women; the previous volume in particular featured him being a total ass for no reason. Messmann turns the concept around this time; Dianna as mentioned starts off literally shooting at Jeff in her intro, and will spend the rest of the novel fighting against him. 

The funny thing is, Jeff isn’t nearly as much of a dick toward Dianna as he was to the girl in the previous book, so it’s like Messmann increased the sexual hostility on the female front but toned it down on Jeff’s side. Granted, Jeff does spend the majority of The Swiss Secret telling Dianna to go home and leave it to the experts, and also he’s constantly pulling her out of the fire due to her stubborness. Otherwise Messmann tries to develop a belabored “love” deal between the two, with Dianna growing feelings for Jeff and constantly nagging at him for being “cold” and not opening himself up and etc. Indeed the lame finale has Dianna pulling a number where Jeff will have to chose between his “cold” devotion to duty or his feelings for Dianna. But once again the poor “full breasted” brunette is in over her head and Jeff must once again save her dumb ass. 

That I think is the main drawback of The Swiss Secret: Dianna is one of the more annoying female characters in the series, and Messmann spends too much time on her. This is because his plot doesn’t give him much else to work with; literally the entire book is Jeff chasing clues to find out why two billion was stolen, who stole it, and what the money will be used for. But this only causes even more friction between Jeff and Dianna, because Jeff is relatively certain that Dianna’s father was in on the plot, along with Meredith. Messmann foreshadows Meredith’s treachery at the start of the book, with the mention that Meredith has “small breasts;” per my doctorate paper on men’s adventure, only traitorous, evil, or ugly women have small breasts in this genre. Regardless, Dianna spends the novel trying to prove Jeff wrong. And meanwhile making a mess of things; for example, one of the novel’s few action scenes has Dianna getting caught by some bad guys in Paris, and Jeff has to go to her rescue, leading to a fight in the back alleys of Paris that honestly lacks any tension due to the protracted way Messmann writes. 

The same holds true for the lovin’. When Jeff and Dianna have their expected conjugation, something which actually occurs a few times throughout the novel, it’s rendered in overwrought prose like this:

Eventually Jeff deduces that the two billion is going to the Libyans, leading to a mention of Qadafi, almost as if we’re reading a men’s adventure novel from a decade later. But even here there’s no major action scene; as mentioned Jeff must save Dianna, leading to another Bond-esque bit where he must swim across a dark sea and infiltrate a Libyan boat and rescue Dianna before torpedos destroy them all. After this we have another fizzling action bit where Jeff and Dianna try to get to Lord Byron before the bad guys do; even here Dianna shows her stubborn foolishness, and also Messmann has wasted so many pages that he rushes through this climax to the point that it’s almost comical. 

Overall The Swiss Secret was my least favorite installment of Jefferson Boone, Handyman yet. I get the impression that, given that he was writing The Revenger at the same time (plus other stuff, I’m sure), Jon Messmann was getting a little exhausted with the whole “men’s adventure” scene. 

 I wonder if Pyramid Books was also getting tired of the series. Not only is the cover design different from the previous three volumes, but that doesn’t even look like Jefferson Boone on the cover. It looks more like Dakota! That was from a different publisher, but still. I wonder if the uncredited cover art for The Swiss Mystery was originally commissioned for a different series entirely.

Wednesday, April 5, 2023

They Thirst

They Thirst, by Robert R. McCammon
May, 1981  Avon Books

Robert McCammon was a name I knew well in my horror-reading teen years; you’d often see copies of his super-fat paperbacks in middle school and high school. I was a Stephen King guy, though, and rarely ventured outside his world to other horror fiction. I do recall attempting to read McCammon’s Swan Song at some point in high school – yet another super-fat paperback, this one about the end of the world – but I couldn’t get over how similar it was to King’s The Stand (which I’d read in its recently-published uncut version shortly before), so I put it aside. Literally the only thing I recall about Swan Song was the description that one of the characters, a black professional wrestler, had a stomach that had gone to “marshmellow” due to his eating donuts or something, and that “marshmellow” description always stuck with me. 

 Well anyway! I’ve been on a horror kick lately, though to tell the truth it’s starting to wane now (it actually lasted longer than previous horror fiction kicks!), and I decided to give McCammon another chance. But as usual with me it couldn’t be easy. The book that really caught my interest was this one, an early novel of his, yet another super-fat paperback, about vampires in Los Angeles. Another one seemingly inspired by King, in this case Salem’s Lot. But folks They Thirst ain’t easy to get hold of. The days of Robert McCammon’s paperbacks being ubiquitous are long gone, especially when it comes to the first four he published, which McCammon himself has kept from being reprinted. They’re now known as the “Condemned Four.” 

Predictably, this means that those first four books are overpriced on the used books marketplace, even though they each went through a few printings. And They Thirst is the most overpriced of all. Hell, there isn’t even a digital scan of it on The Internet Archive. Sellers want $30 and up for copies. I became so obsessed with finding this book that I actually purchased a coverless copy of the original Avon Books edition…and it cost me a dollar. The thing is in super beaten shape, but hey, I just wanted to read the book, you know…I don’t really get worked up about “mint condition” and etc these days. Plus the cover’s kind of lame on this edition. And also, for the first time I’d been called for jury duty, so I thought I’d bring the book along to read. You don’t have to worry about maintaining the condition of a book when it’s already missing the front cover, has a broken spine, and in general looks like it was carried in a backpack on a trek across Europe. I also thought if they saw me reading a book about vampires in L.A. they wouldn’t pick me for the jury, but unfortunately that didn’t work and I was picked anyway. 

Running to 531 small-print pages, They Thirst is not a quick read. Not by a long shot! It took me a few weeks to read it. And I have to say, there were times when I was sufficiently caught up in it that I wanted to read nothing else. (I’m not always faithful to long books when I’m reading them.) I thought They Thirst might be this year’s Colony or The Tomorrow File, a long book that could’ve just kept going on and on, such was my enjoyment. And speaking of Ben Bova’s Colony, it seems to me that Robert McCammon was attempting the same sort of thing, like also what Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle did with Lucifer’s Hammer: a genre novel written in the style of the bestselling mainstream fiction of the day. They Thirst is ostensibly horror, but like those other novels it offers a panoramic view of a large cast of characters interracting across a large canvass of action, with the idea of appealing to a larger readership than just horror fans. 

But here’s the thing. They Thirst is usually loglined as “vampires in Los Angeles.” It wasn’t until around page 400, though, that I realized IT WASN’T EVEN A VAMPIRE NOVEL. I have no real knowledge of Robert McCammon, haven’t researched him at all, but if I am correct he has “banned” They Thirst and the previous three novels because he considers them subpar, or at least not good indications of his writing. I don’t know what he holds particularly against They Thirst, but my own personal guess would be because the novel suffers from identity confusion. I mean the first two hundred pages are like a crime novel about a serial killer in L.A., sort of a prefigure of Marcel Montecino’s The Cross Killer. Then They Thirst turns into an end-of-the-world disaster novel, before transforming yet again into a quest novel in the final quarter. Actual vampire stuff is scant, and like John Steakley’s later Vampire$, the vampires that do show up come off more like zombies. 

To be sure, this is not a Dracula type of yarn; these vampires are not the suave sinister types who lure in young women (or men) and have their way with them one by one. Hell, Thirst is more of a “traditional” vampire novel than this is. Rather, They Thirst is more of a virus contagion sort of yarn, with vampirism quickly spreading across sections of Los Angeles and turning regular everyday folks into bloodthirsty vampires who thirst for blood. To me, it just all seemed more like a zombie apocalypse sort of story, only McCammon wants his cake and to eat it, too, as he tries to have it both ways – vampirism spreads to such an extent that almost the entirety of L.A. has become vampires, or knows about vampires, yet our author also wants to have it that the actual existence of vampires is still questioned by most people, especially those outside of L.A. This becomes especially hard to buy as the action becomes more and more apocalyptic in the final section. 

Oh and I almost forgot: above I wrote that They Thirst clearly seems to cater to the bestselling fiction template of the day, but one thing I was bummed to learn was that it was very tepid in the sleaze arena. I believe there’s only one sex scene in the novel, early on, and it’s minimal at best. What I’m trying to say is, this is certainly no Live Girls. And hell for that matter, McCammon doesn’t even exploit the setting much. When I saw this novel was about “vampires in L.A.” I imagined, you know, vampires running amok in the neon glow of Sunset Strip, but that never happens in the book. We get a lot of namedropping of various streets, buildings, and sections of the barrios, but for the most part the zombie-like vampires lurk in the shadows of empty houses, and the king vampire himself lurks above the city, in a castle built by a murdered horror movie actor. 

Now this bit really grinded my gears. Another thing the McCammon of today might not like about They Thirst is that there’s so much setup with little payoff, from characters to subplots. One of the latter concerns the wonderfully-named Orlon Kronsteen, a Bela Lugosi-type horror actor who starred in a movie about Jack the Ripper (and other stuff, though we are told woefully little of him) and had a castle built above Los Angeles. But “several years ago” Kronsteen was murdered, apparently in some sort of ritual deal, with his head cut off or something…and Prince Vulkan, the king vampire of They Thirst, decides this castle will be his perfect home base. But nothing whatsoever is made of Kronsteen, the entire mystery of why or how he was killed just totally dropped from the narrative…even worse is that some random biker seems to imply that he was there the night it happened, but this biker too is dropped from the narrative. 

It's like that throughout. In pure “bestselling fiction” style, Robert McCammon introduces sundry characters at the start of They Thirst, but he turns out to be like a pet-sitter who takes on too many animals to watch. I mean pretty soon most of these characters are just plain gone, and folks by the end of the novel they still haven’t come back! In fact it’s a wonder Avon Books didn’t package They Thirst like a blockbuster-type novel, giving a quick logline of the many main characters: 

Andy Palatazin – Los Angeles police captain who knows vampires are real and ultimately sees himself as the only man who can stop the infestation. Plus he’s haunted by the ghost of his mom. 

Gayle Clarke – Hotstuff reporter for a tabloid; when her boyfriend tries to drink her blood she realizes vampires might exist. Intermittently disappears from the narrative, only to return hundreds of pages later. 

Prince Vulkan – Dead since the 1400s, turned into a vampire as a teen, with the appropriate temper tantrums of an undead teenager. The chosen disciple of “The Headmaster” (ie the devil in all but name), for reasons not explained he’s only now decided to conquer L.A., despite being hundreds of years old. 

The Roach – Serial killer freak with a penchant for murdering hookers who look like his dead mother and stuffing cockroaches in their mouths. Serves as the would-be Renfield to Prince Vulkan’s Dracula. 

Kobra – Albino biker with the memorable intro in which he blows away some rednecks in a bar with his Mauser for absolutely no reason. Perhaps the most wasted character in the novel; Kobra is developed as this super cool badass but anticlimactically drops out of the narrative, only to return sporadically afterward. 

Tommy Chandler – Another teen, this one alive, a monster movie fan with posters of Orlon Kronsteen on his wall and also who knows how Kronsteen’s castle is layed out, thanks to a feature in an old issue of Famous Monsters Of Filmland

Wes Richer and Solange – He’s a rising star on the comedy scene with a hit show in which he plays a moron Sherlock Holmes; she’s his “Afro-Asian” mistress, a stacked beauty with a penchant for reading ouija boards and whatnot. In fact it’s through one of these that the title of the novel comes into play, as Solange receives the message “THEY THIRST” from the spirit world. 

Ratty – A ‘Nam vet who lives in the sewers beneath L.A., where he grows his own drugs. In his “Timothy Leary for President” shirt he’s the highlight of the novel, though only appears in the final quarter. 

Father Silvera – A brawny priest with a hidden disease that’s killing him, he takes the expected route of denying that vampires exist, then realizing it, then refusing to go on the quest to the Kronsteen castle to kill Vulkan, and then instead saving his flock…before finally heading to the Kronsteen castle. 

There are sundry other characters, many of them unnecessary, like the hotstuff real estate lady who helped Vulkan buy the castle. She gets a few chapters, then just flat-out drops from the narrative. Same goes for the owner of a funeral parlor chain. Or Rico, who is searching for his lost girlfriend in the barrio. Or a doctor at a hospital who realizes too late that her “dead” patients are really vampires. Many of these characters are of course turned into vampires, but even then they disappear afterwards, with no “I’m a vampire now!” shock return. It’s a bit disappointing, but it must be said that, while you’re reading the book, you don’t realize that the majority of this stuff isn’t going to pan out. I mean it’s about the journey, not the destination, as I’m sure Ratty would say, but still. It wasn’t until around page 500 or so that I realized so much of this stuff was not going to be resolved. 

The first couple hundred pages were by far my favorite. McCammon delivers a taut suspense thriller with only minor supernatural overturns; this opening section is almost a standard crime novel, with Capt. Palatazin obsessed with finding and stopping a serial killer the papers have dubbed the Roach. It’s very much a police procedural, with no action, just Palatazin going about the work of deduction and following clues. And we have stuff from the Roach’s point of view; curiously, his day job is as a pest exterminator, same as the serial killer in Lou Cameron’s The Closing Circle. The horror novel stuff gradually develops, mostly through the strange bit of corpses being mysteriously dug out of graves at night. Palatazin, whose father was bitten by a vampire when Palatazin was a child in Hungary, knows something is going on. 

But the “vampire virus” stuff builds up and soon it’s more of a zombie apocalypse yarn, with whole sections of the barrio for example overrun by vampires. Then the end of the world vibe begins; Vulkan uses his powers to bring down an apocalyptic sandstorm on Los Angeles, blocking the city off from the world and keeping people from leaving. Phone lines are down, planes can’t leave, etc. This section goes on for a long time and again made me think of King’s The Stand. It’s very much a piece of disaster fiction now, with long sequences of various characters getting trapped in cars or in their homes and trying to get out before the daylight goes away so they can kill vampires. This part was my least favorite in the novel. 

Then the final quarter takes on a quest angle. Some of the characters band together to get to the Kronsteen castle, where they figure the “king vampire” might lurk. This too takes up a large brunt of the narrative; I mean they aren’t like “Let’s go there,” and then they’re at the castle the next chapter. It’s almost grueling and again takes away from the vampire stuff the reader might want. It’s really just characters fighting their way through blinding clouds of sand and trying to figure out where they are. To tell the truth it was exhausting to read. What makes it worse is that McCammon drops the ball in the finale. Major characters are dispensed with in an almost offhand fashion, and worse yet the entire point of certain characters even being here is rendered moot. No spoilers, but Palatazin in particular. I mean this guy’s dad turned into a vampire, so he has a personal, uh, “stake” in the matter, but he doesn’t contribute much to the climax. 

Even funnier, McCammon doesn’t seem to know when to end the novel. So even after the good guys have sort of won, we get like an extended 20-page bit where Gayle Clarke, who has mostly disappeared from the novel at this point, tries to escape from the military base in which survivors are being held. And it just keeps going on and on. All so she can get out to the real world and tell the story that vampires exist…not that anyone believes her. Even though the entirety of L.A. turned into vampires, complete with even the deejay on a radio station taunting the last few humans in the city. But like I said, McCammon wants his cake and to eat it too. 

So yeah, I was a bit underwhelmed with They Thirst. I do think though that I enjoyed it more than Will did, over at Too Much Horror Fiction. I was sufficiently caught up in it, at least for the first few hundred pages. But once it got to the apocalyptic sandstorm bit it started to lose my interest. I also felt the climactic assault on Vulkan in Kronsteen’s castle could have been more thrilling, but McCammon was so focused on showing how dire the plight of his characters was that he did succeed in making it all seem hopeless. But then he makes it seem so hopeless that the climax is a bit hard to buy. 

I’ve got some more Robert McCammon novels which I might read someday; one of them, Wolf’s Hour, about a werewolf in World War II, is one I really wanted to read back when it came out, but just never got around to.