The story of Mick St John if you’re watching the TV show Moonlight or Mick Angel if you’re reading the book Angel of Vengeance had a bit of a chicken-or-egg genesis. The book was written first, but not published until after the TV show it had inspired had been aired and summarily cancelled.
I watched Moonlight and was actually a bit gutted when the writers strike bought about its premature cancellation when it was just finding its feet. I was therefore quite pleased when the book inspiration for the show was handed to me to review. I expected to re-immerse myself in the world of the lovely Mick St John, your typical vamp with a conscience; perhaps get some closure on his burgeoning relationship with Beth. Maybe even find out what the fuck was going on with his ex-wife Coraline and that French dude with the black eyes.
Imagine my surprise when I started reading and discovered that the kind, handsome, lovely Mick St John that Alexander O’Loughlin had so dashingly portrayed was nowhere to be seen. For a start his name is different. Here he is Mick Angel. One can only assume that the name had to be changed for the TV show to avoid the obvious parallels with that other tortured good-guy vamp working as a PI to clean up the dirty LA streets – Joss Whedon’s Angel.
The second surprise is that this Mick is a much darker character. Although the book retains the central idea that he lives by rules that see him feeding only on the guilty (in fact our first meeting with Mick he is ambushing and draining a serial rapist and murderer) he seems to actually enjoy the killing. Out is the tortured soul and what we’re left with is Dexter with fangs, and the book is all the better for it.
It’s amazingly refreshing, after the last few years and every book about vampires going down the Twilight “I don’t kill people” route, to meet a vampire who actually does kill people and doesn’t feel guilty about it. In his mind he’s doing the world a favour. Yes he’s a tortured soul but it’s not being a vampire that’s made him so. Before he became a vampire, this Mick was already a very damaged man. It’s certainly unusual for a vampire to have been a drug addict before getting turned. Usually vampirism is a metaphor for drug addiction but this Mick was chasing the dragon for years before he became a blood addict.
It’s also the first book about vampires that I’ve read in a while that doesn’t glamorise the condition. So often in fiction, the only downside of being a vampire is bloodlust, which like drug addiction you can learn to cope with. The rest of it is eternal life with super-powers: fun. Here being a vampire sounds horrible. Mick may have heightened senses of smell, sight and hearing, but being an animated corpse means that his skin is so numb that he can’t really feel anything. The numbness means that although he doesn’t feel pain, he is clumsy and has little or no dexterity. He may be immortal but his body continues to decay the longer he lives. He has to sleep in a freezer in the hopes that it will slow down the decay, but there is no way to stop it. Eventually he will decompose…but will still be alive as it happens…
There’s no glittery skin or heightened sex appeal here. It’s pretty grim. Just like the LA Mick inhabits. The story is steeped in noir. All the classic tropes appear, Mick himself is a classic fedora wearing, chain smoking, whisky drinking, grizzled Gumshoe. He takes a case from a beautiful burlesque dancer (who couldn’t be a more obvious femme fatale if she were wearing a sign), then spends the rest of the novel skulking around seedy bars, having fist fights in alleyways and crashing Hollywood parties. It’s all wonderful, if a little cliché.
Also unlike many, many vampire novels I’ve read recently there is no Mills & Boon-esque love story (perhaps I’ve been reading the wrong books?). The love interest that was created for the show, Beth, does appears as a little girl and you can’t help but think that there’s no way the grown up Beth would touch this Mick with a ten foot condom. Mick here isn’t looking for redemption through love and although there is a sex scene in the book it is just that, no “you complete me” nonsense or overblown romance. Even looking back at his courtship with Coraline, Mick suggests that it was purely lust and a poisonous addiction to each other that kept them together. Love doesn’t really feature, but then, this is grizzled gumshoe territory so I guess it wouldn’t really fit.
For all its noir pretentions however, it’s not quite pulling it off for me. There are instances where the author has tried to mimic a chandleresque voice, but sadly it’s not stylistically competent enough to fully realise this vision. He does however exhibit an interesting turn of phrase at times, especially when speaking as Mick. Unlike most vamps in modern fiction, Mick hasn’t adjusted to the 21st Century. He still talks like it’s the 1950s’, calls women “dames”, and doesn’t have a mobile phone. It’s a nice touch that he’s not adjusting. It allows the author to set the novel in the modern day with all its problems and concerns whilst staying true to the traditions of 1950s’ noir which I did appreciate.
Another complaint is that the ending feels a little rushed. In a few pages we get the terribly predictable conclusion of the case, the “saw it coming a mile away” twist and a showdown that I think could have done with being drawn out a bit more. It almost felt like the author ran out of time to give the end of the story the fleshing out it deserved. Perhaps he was up to his word limit. Perhaps he’s hoping this will be the first book in a series. Whatever the reason, I did feel a bit let down because for all my complaints I did actually enjoy the novel. Yes it’s a bit flimsy and throwaway, but what else can you expect from a true work of bloody pulp fiction?