Thursday, February 6, 2014

REVIEW: They Thirst by Robert McCammon (1981)

This book can be found on Amazon.

Classic McCammon: They Thirst follows several different characters, who, at first, share little or no connection. That is, until the plot gets to work and forces them to band together for survival. 

One by one, building by building, a change is occurring in L.A. Parasites with fangs have descended on the city, unknown and unseen. Some whisper their names--vampires--but even they find it hard to believe. "Vampires aren't real," they say. "That's fiction," they say, adding a chuckle. But 'they' are wrong. Anonymity and an exponential spread are the greatest weapons of an ancient vampire lord who controls his hidden army from the shell of a castle overlooking the city. Using the invasion strategies of great conquerers such as Alexander and Caesar, he plans to conquer its nine million inhabitants within a few nights. And only a handful of characters stand in his way…

Let's get cliche: McCammon has a way with words. His writing is vivid, clear, and exciting. His characters are real and he does a decent job of connecting the reader to their emotions. But this story came with one major flaw. The plot, though well-woven, proved to be pointless in the end. But, in the interest of avoiding spoilers, I'll save that for later.

The story begins in Hungary, where a young boy and his mother wait for the father to return home. Before leaving on his 'hunting' trip, the father tells his son to keep the door latched and his wife to "Watch my shadow," hinting that when he returns, he may no longer be himself. Needless to say, that prophecy is fulfilled. Mother and boy escape, but narrowly.

The narrative jumps ahead and that boy is a veteran policeman in L.A. The memories of Hungary are vague. It's the unearthed corpses in a nearby cemetery that spark his involvement. Bones are scattered everywhere, as if the thief was hungry to get at something buried just below them. Which is exactly the case: the coffins have been stolen.

This is but one harbinger.

Meanwhile, a biker on the run murders the patrons of a bar in Texas. He feels some force pulling him toward California. He doesn't know why, but he obeys. A reporter in L.A. discovers that several cemeteries have been ransacked for their coffins. A priest who deals out his own street justice struggles with morality and the degradation of the ghettos. A young thug searches for his pregnant girlfriend. A superstar and his spiritualist girlfriend are curious about the old castle where a grizzly crime occurred. And vampires strategically move about them, carefully picking targets, carefully draining the life of a city.

Before they know it, a massive sandstorm blows in from the desert at the behest of the head honcho vamp. It covers the city, cuts it off from the outside world, locks people indoors. Separated, helpless, the invaders only need to move door to door like vacuum salesmen, converting their enemies into more invaders.

McCammon builds the tension with expert care. A few scenes are straight-freaky. The action is fluid and believable, even when it gets outlandish.


This is where our heroes decide to fight back. It seems impossible, but they must try. This is also where the plot proves to be, well, pointless. As our fearless heroes close in on the castle, the POV switches to the head honcho vamp. Through him, we get the background. The head honcho has a boss--a header head honcho, if you will. McCammon makes it vague, but from what I got, this header head honcho has an eternal struggle going on with the ultimate good--God, one is to assume, though it isn't said outright. In the end, the heroes fail. They do not stop the vampires. All of their struggles, their stories, their growth as people, their hope and determination had no impact on the story. Because the unnamed enemy (God, who doesn't make an appearance until the very end) decides to hit L.A. with the Big One--a massive earthquake plunges the city into the ocean, drowning those pesky vampires. It's like Raiders of the Lost Ark--Indy didn't actually do anything to 'save the day'.

Despite that, I found this book very readable. It's exciting and will keep you turning pages until the very end. I don't normally read vampire novels (like zombies, after 2 or 3, you've read plenty), but I would put it in the same league with Salem's Lot: worth reading and memorable. You won't find any profound insights on the human condition or Pulitzer-worthy prose, but you will find a really fun story.

Score: 7 out of 10

No comments:

Post a Comment