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It's been twenty years since Whitley Strieber first wrote THE HUNGER - the tale of Vampiress, Miriam Blaylock, that became the eponymous cult movie of the eighties starring Catherine DeNeuve and David Bowie. And a lot of things have happened to Strieber the writer of horror, Strieber the abductee, Strieber the global catastrophist and supporter of the crankier side of science since that last outing. Indeed, a lot of Strieber's current obsession with global issues, he co-wrote the book that was the basis for the Roland Emerich summer blockbuster THE DAY AFTER YESTERDAY, make it into this book.
THE LAST VAMPIRE continues the story of vampire Miriam Blaylock. Her last husband, David, is still in the attic bedded into his coffin like a wrinkled old pot plant. A corpse that refuses to die, along side all her other husbands and wives from thousands of years of herding the human animal.
For those of you who have only seen the movie THE HUNGER, you will feel misled by this book. As good as that Tony Scott directed movie was, as atmospheric and stylish and riveting as it was, casting Catherine DeNeuve as Miriam Blaylock would not have been my first choice. Sure, you get the mystique of DeNeuve but at the time, she was no spring chicken and the fact of the matter is Miriam Blaylock is supposed to look like an eighteen year old. That's the allure of the vampire, they can make you see them let's say in a slightly better light than the one that's normally cast. Blaylock's vampires no longer skulk about in Bauhaus-haunted dingy goth nightclubs, it's all gone a bit up market. Blaylock's vampires are the ultra-chic, the penthouse residents, rubbing shoulders with film stars, politicians and industrialists at her exclusive Manhattan nightclub called Veils.
The narrative has changed too, in fact mankind has changed too. And this is where the all-conquering action hero Paul Ward enters the game. Ward is employed by CIA as a vampire hunter. He kills these wretched creatures for a living. And is very good at his job. On a trip to Thailand to take part in the centennial Conclave, Miriam Blaylock discovers just how good a killer this Ward is and barely escapes with her life, let alone her skin or hair.
But that's enough narrative content, the meat of the book, the thing that really makes this work stand out from Strieber's earlier work is the pace and method of narrative disclosure.
The book segues clinically from cultural and historical vampire references in the early part to acts of vampire violence and sexual intensity later on. Imagine two books that have been written separately; one of the life and history of the Vampires and how they have been ruling human lives since the year dot - a purely journalistic piece; and the other book, the personal, intimate book of everyday encounter between predator and prey - pure skin of the teeth prose.
It's an odd way to approach the Vampire myth in a second book. To concentrate so much on the background and THEN get into the nitty gritty, the stuff that takes you by the throat and refuses to let you go until, hours and hours later you close the book with a gasp of mental and physical exhaustion. It's like Strieber was saying, "I should have done it like this in the first book. This will make it all the more believable." Well, it does. The constant reference to historical events and personages certainly pins the Vampire quite firmly within the evolution of humanity in a much more graphic fashion than did the monoliths of Arthur C Clarke's 2001. The vampires literally gave everything to the humans, their intellect, their taste, their technology. A technology (and a language, Prime) that is now lost to the world.
One wonders if Strieber ever considered writing this novel purely in the past, a historical unveiling of the vampire race, where it came from, where its technology went, the nuances of its language and the 'glory years' of world domination.
But these are no longer the glory years - now is the time for war, man has rebelled against his master.
As a reader, one is given the sensation that Strieber is a good guy, a historian. A story teller. But anyone who's read WOLFEN would know that this is a wolf under that sheepish exterior. When Strieber lets rip, when his sexual appetite is aroused or his malevolent mood is riled, the reader gets it full in the face and these are the best bits of the book, Strieber in full unexpurgated rant. Full on sensory and psychological and moral attack. The manner in which he allows the narrative to describe both parties, the vampire view of humanity and Ward's view of the vampires are well portrayed with just the right amount of difference in the written voice to convey the different psyches being portrayed in the third person. It's a very delicate juggling act with very delicate crockery but nothing is broken, chipped or cracked. No great passages come crashing to the floor.
So, back to this eighteen year old vampire, Miriam Blaylock. She is on her way to the Asian Conclave. She knows in her bones that this may be the last time she'll get to meet her increasingly reclusive kind this century. She needs to mate and vampires can only mate among their own kind - that's the purpose of these Conclaves, to bring the vampire sexes together so they can find their partners and father their offspring. But it all goes wrong. All the Asian vampires are dead. Fleeing to Paris is no help and her first brush with Paul Ward is nearly her last.
Back to New York, Miriam has a new lover. A female lover, Sarah - a technical bit part that holds no interest as a character (brought back from the edge of attempted suicide is no excuse for a primary character to be so dull). Luckily for the reader, there's a feisty understudy in the form of teenager Leonora.
So, in summary, it's a well-plotted, intellectually-stimulating, powerful book that's just a little too concerned with being trendy and 'au fait' with current global concerns.
This review copyright 2004 E.C.McMullen Jr.