Redlaw by James Lovegrove
Without fear of contradiction, I’m able to confirm Redlaw by James Lovegrove is the best vampire book of 2012 (so far). A book like this is why I read through relative mountains of printed material. Every now and then, you come across a title where something just clicks. In this case, we have two key factors present for this to be classed as a really good book. First, the manner of the storytelling. This has a stripped-down approach. Everything is kept really simple. The language is lean and transparent. Nothing distracts us from a smooth start-up which then builds a genuine pace as we go through the middle stages and into a great, almost cinematic, climax. Where descriptions are offered, they are kept to a minimum, giving us only what we need to carry us forward. Where people must speak, they are always on message and keep it short. As a result, this is a real page-turner with a strong narrative dynamic.
Second, this is a really pleasing and original take on the tired urban vampire trope. I’d like to think enlightened governments across Europe would respond in this way if vampires proved real. So, for those who sit in Britain, obsessing over the influx of Polish plumbers and the threat of unemployment this creates for local water engineers, here comes a completely different wave of refugees. Driven out of their quiet homes in Eastern Europe and the ex-satellite Soviet states come the sunless — the euphemism the government spin doctors devise to describe the vampires who no longer have a safe haven. Like the waves of refugees fleeing persecution that have come before them, they come seeking asylum. Reluctantly, Western Europe takes them in. Politicians in Germany and other European countries cannot be seen to advocate an ultimate solution for the undead — they are, after all, ex-people and, no doubt, some were Jewish. It’s therefore better to have a known threat in a relatively secure place rather than allowing unregistered individuals to spread through the human population. Politicians lose votes if too many electors disappear. So our leaders create ghettos with fences. The security is two-way. There are humans who would kill vampires out of fear or for sport. There are vampires who might tire of a diet of cow’s blood and seek out their preferred prey. Standing uncomfortably between these groups of predators is a thin line of police officers. One of the key British officers is Captain John Redlaw who has become a legend in his own lifetime, keeping the peace in London.
Redlaw is a hero straight out of an anime or comic book. Indeed, the excellent jacket artwork by Clint Langley captures the essence of the man perfectly (I’ve reproduced the artwork without the cover design so you get its full effect). He’s tall with white hair and a face as craggy as a cliff. He wears boots, a long overcoat and a shirt with a collar like a priest. There’s a wooden cross around his neck. He carries a long-barrelled handgun and other assorted weaponry that can despatch vampires (and humans if they get in the way). In a fight, he’s calm under pressure and likely to emerge the winner. This is not to say he’s superhuman like Alucard in Hellsing whose job it is with Integra to keep England safe from supernatural threats. Redlaw is just tough and determined to get to the bottom of any trouble on his patch (by any means necessary). All this should tell you this novel would make an excellent anime — film-makers tend to get the look-and-feel wrong when they try to realise urban vampire stories on the big screen. I could see Redlaw in a Hellsing-style anime with a female vampire standing shoulder-to-shoulder with him as the plot progresses — note to Gonzo or, more probably, FUNimation Entertainment since it owns the rights to Hellsing Ultimate, to consider picking up the rights.
So putting all this together, Redlaw is terrific fun. It’s not intended to be the next great novel. It has no literary pretensions. It simply tells a very good vampire story very well and, if that’s your thing, you should make haste to acquire a copy. As a final afterthought, I was vastly amused to see a quote from the Guardian reproduced on the cover. It’s actually a reference to James Lovegrove’s The Age of Zeus. I suppose it’s not defamatory under English law to say an author can’t write because, in the case of Dan Brown, his reputation as an author can’t be any lower. Critical opinion already holds Dan Brown in contempt, whereas Lovegrove is pleasingly talented.
For a review of the sequel, see Redlaw: Red Eye.
A copy of this book was sent to me for review.