TITLE: Redlaw (Redlaw #1)
AUTHOR: James Lovegrove
GENRE: Fiction, Urban Fantasy, Paranormal
PUBLISHED: September 2011
Redlaw is set in London, the story’s premise that vampires suddenly have gone from myth to reality. Author Lovegrove’s vampires are different from the usual vampire; his are slovenly and disgusting creatures with little intelligence ruled entirely by the thirst for blood. The only exception is the Shtriga, a special elite type of vampire that’s much more human. Vampires have been illegally immigrating to London and have become such a large problem that they are confined to what is called Sunless Residential Areas, or SRAs. An SRA is a reservation for vampires. Vampires are required to remain in their designated SRAs or they are to be staked on sight by shade officers.
“He nudged open a door to a stairwell. The stench that poured out almost bowled him over. The Sunless were using the stairwell as a kind of communal open-plan latrine. “
“They led him up the cloacal staircase, eleven flights to the top. The vampires trod blithely—many of them barefoot—through the globs of faecal matter that had piled up on the steps. Redlaw placed his feet with care and fought to keep from gagging.”
The novel opens with action, our main character John Redlaw puts a few stokers in their places. Stokers are vigilantes who stalk the streets at night looking for vampires who have left their SRA; the stokers stalk and beat them to a pulp before finally dusting them with a stake through the heart.
“Redlaw didn’t relent until both Stokers were half senseless and their features were like bloody maps of hell. Then he went over to the rollerblader Stoker with the crippled knee and, almost clinically, stamped on his good knee until it was crippled too. Finally he turned to the man with the broken arm, who was hobbling away, whimpering. He yanked the man’s helmet off, exposing a pain-wracked, tear-streaked face. “If there’s one thing lower than vampires,” he said, “it’s people who prey on vampires.”
Redlaw is a detective of the Vampire police agency known as shade; he is a bad ass and his name alone sparks fear in vampires across London. The plot of the novel focuses on a series of violent riots during blood drops to the SRAs. Redlaw knows vampires, and his gut is telling him that this behavior is unusual.
“What are your suspicions based on?” “Nothing. Yet,” said Redlaw. “Instinct. A feeling.” “Oh, dear Lord, please don’t say a hunch.” That would have been the very next word out of his mouth. “I patrol the streets every night. Have done for a decade and a half. It’d be fair to say that I’ve developed a… sensitivity for how ’Lesses think and behave. What I witnessed at Hackney, the savagery, the intensity—it wasn’t normal.”
“I had to post mortem neutralise two men last night in Hackney. Two men whose last few minutes of life must have been spent in utter, abject terror. Two men with families. That isn’t right. There has to be a root cause to the riots, something more than simple thirst.”
John Redlaw reminds me of John McClane from the Die Hard movies — IF he were British and in his sixties. Redlaw started his career as a police detective and ended up working as a shade officer. He’s a devout man, not fanatical in his faith but serious in his devotion; and doing what’s right and to the vampires he’s the Boogeyman.
“As for Nikola, he was truly terrified. He might not have been in this country long but even he had heard of John Redlaw. The man was spoken of among his kind often and only ever in hushed tones, the name rarely uttered louder than a whisper.”
But Redlaw has a lot on his plate, trying to solve the mystery of the increased riots at the SRAs dealing with guilt over the death of his partner.
“You still feel guilty over Leary’s death.” Father Dixon pitched the remark carefully as both statement and query. He already had a clear notion of the answer. “Of course. If I’d been with her, it never would have happened.”
The story follows several characters, each important to the development and conclusion of the story. The story switches point of view with each character, which isn’t bad except at times when following a less interesting character the story gets boring and monotonous. This is mostly because the acts of the villains aren’t action packed, it’s more strategic moves and ulterior motives. The author tries to give readers background info that is informative but not necessary to the story and its development.
But Redlaw isn’t the only hero of the tale, we have the endearing Father Dixon and the Shrtriga Illyria Strakosha. Father Dixon is John Redlaw’s spiritual guide and probably his best friend.
“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned,” said Redlaw as he knelt at the communion rail, facing the sanctuary. “No, you haven’t, John,” Father Dixon replied from the other side of the rail. “Don’t talk rot. If you’ve sinned, then it’s truly a sign of the End Times and I should be looking out the window for my first glimpse of the Four Horsemen. What’s troubling you? Care to share?”
“Think about it,” said Father Dixon. “Vampires. Supernatural beings. They’re immortal—as long as they steer clear of you chaps. They have abilities that some might call superhuman, godlike even. They skulk in the dark, forbidden the light. They’re compelled to leech off the living, to drink blood, kind of an anti-Eucharist. They’re dead but they mimic life. What are they, looked at like that, but a parody of God? His warped reflection. The negative to His positive. We infer the shape of Him by the shadows the Sunless create. They provide the outline, leaving a blank for us to fill in. He made them, John, just as He made the Devil, in order to show us Himself. Unholy and blasphemous as they are, vampires are the clearest evidence we have that God is real and wants us to know it. Do you see that? Often I’m asked by a parishioner why doesn’t God ever just give us a sign, something concrete and undeniable, so that we can be sure, one hundred per cent, that He’s there. I reply: He already has. Go to an SRA and look. There’s your sign.”
Illyria throws Redlaw for a loop. Putting everything he thought he knew about vampires to the test.
“The woman turned. She was—and Redlaw could not hide his surprise—striking. Pale-skinned, yes, but she lacked the greasy pallor common to the Sunless, and her eyes were not scarlet, just dark. Dark like a starless night. There was, too, none of the familiar slouchy cadaverousness about her. She held herself straight. She had presence. Her hair was thick, glossy and black as ink. Her features were fine, not feral. Even her clothing—jeans, tailored jacket, a blouse, knee boots—was a cut above the shabby vampire average. Not brand new, to be sure, but in good condition and showing signs of having been laundered not so long ago. She smiled at his confusion.”
One of the best things about the novel is following the development of Redlaw and Illyria’s relationship as they work together to uncover the cause of the SRA riots.
“You’re out of your SRA,” he said. “That’s in direct contravention of the Sunless Settlement Act.” “So impale me.” “I would if I could.” “I know, old bean. That’s what makes you so spiffingly entertaining—your relentless dedication to your job. To the point of masochism.” “I… entertain you?” Redlaw snorted.”
“He had no recollection of Illyria mending the stitches he had torn. She must have done it while he slept. Dear God, how insensible did you have to be for someone to put two fresh stitches in you and not be woken by it? He was both alarmed and oddly touched, picturing her ministering to him in the dark. Any other Sunless would have taken advantage, ripped a hole in his neck and drunk from his jugular as though slurping water from a spigot. Illyria, instead, had deftly, delicately fixed him up, knowing he would never have given his consent had he been conscious.”
I enjoyed the originality of Lovegrove’s tale using the slang sunless or ‘less to refer to the vampires. The idea of vampires as immigrants, to have the vampires confined to the SRAs, and for the main character to be an officer in his sixties. For the villain of a vampire story to be the humans. Vigilantes on roller blades stalking vampires. I also found the British accents and dialects fun. It was a change of pace for me, the first time I read a book written completely using British dialects and slang. But by novel’s end, I was well ready for it to be over. Bouts of unnecessary wordiness began to make reading the story a chore. Towards the end of the story, the author managed to somewhat redeem himself by hitting us with a completely unexpected plot twist. All throughout the novel the reader clearly knows who the good guys are who the bad guys are and whose in between, then bam! Sneaky, sneaky Lovegrove, who changes the game.
The author deliberately leaves things up in the air at the end of the novel. We never find out what happened to Redlaw or the Solarville project.
Redlaw is not the usual urban fantasy. There’s no magic involved but it is a nice change of pace for any reader who loves urban fantasy and vampire tales. I definitely recommend the book.