Sunday, October 26, 2003

Review: "Dead on My Feet" by Wm. Mark Simmons

Having grown up in this area, I never suspected there'd be a vampire presence here, but now the place seems to be overrun with them.

Charlaine Harris planted them here in her Southern Vampire series, and now local author Wm. Mark Simmons brings his half-vamp character Chris Cséjthe to town in "Dead on My Feet" ($24, Baen Books).

Simmons began the story of Cséjthe (pronounced Chaytay) in 1996's "One Foot in the Grave." Even in a world of vampires and werewolves, Cséjthe is an oddity. He's neither living nor dead, a half-vampire. Simmons' variety of vampirism is a virus with two parts. Cséjthe got one, but not the other, which makes him of great scientific interest to all of the vampire clans (which seem more like Mafia families).

Cséjthe just wants to be left alone with his werewolf girlfriend Lupé (and don't forget the ghost of his dead wife), so he packs up and moves to a most unlikely place. You guessed it - right here in Monroe. He's provided a new identity - Sam Haim - and opens a detective agency.

When he's hired to check out a local psychic, he expects a quick debunking. Instead, he gets a dire warning. The story that follows is a wild ride that includes a killer virus, a global conspiracy and an army of long-dead Civil War soldiers. Oh, and did I mention that the vampire clans finally catch up to him?

Simmons says his books are not your typical vampire novels, and he's not kidding. There are no overwrought, Goth-poet, tortured souls here (OK, maybe a couple, but they're bearable). Instead his characters are more like real folks with real problems on top of their supernatural woes.

Simmons has never met a pun he didn't like - a trait that he's quick to cop to - but in these novels, as well as in his "Dreamland Chronicles," they usually seem to work. You'll hit a groaner every now and then, but for the most part, the puns enhance the humor.

Part of the fun of reading Simmons' books is picking up on all the references. Sprinkled throughout are allusions to movies, music and all things pop culture. You'll get some and miss some, but there should be a few for everyone.

"Dead on My Feet" and "One Foot in the Grave" are a good mix, blending plenty of light and funny scenes with some dark and downright menacing moments. It also helps that the first book features one of my favorite lines from a vampire novel. Cséjthe is practically forced to attend a support group in the vampire enclave to help him deal with the changes (yes, they have support groups). When he's asked to speak, he stands up and says, "I suck, therefore I am."

Unfortunately, "One Foot in the Grave" is out of stock in most places right now, but Simmons hopes it will be back on shelves soon. Until then, you can still enjoy "Dead on My Feet" as a stand-alone and catch up on the backstory later. It's a lot of fun, and you might find a few things you recognize.

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