“My name’s Matt Hawkins and I kill monsters for a living. Slay and pay.”
So begins L.J. Hayward’s Blood Work, the first in the Night Call series, an entertaining urban fantasy that features generous doses of noir, street-fighter, vampires, and humor, with touches of Men in Black – there’s a whole other world going on right under the populace’s noses, but there are special people working the shadows to keep them safe.
Hawkins hunts down supernatural beasties infesting Brisbane. With a nifty array of weaponry (holy water-infused paint balls, a night stick laced with garlic), he takes on the local vampire clans. He is something of a berserker. His impulsively violent temper has landed him some jail time as well as a court-appointed therapist. But it’s this berserker quality that serves him well in a fight.
Hawkins’ teammate is Mercy, a scrappy vampire (only two years turned), who is the true muscle of the outfit. And this is where Hayward brings a fresh look at vampires. Hers are both Old World and New World creatures, who use their psychic powers to inhibit their prey. While they will drink any type of blood, they do have compatibility issues and will go into a stupor if they drink the wrong type. They also have exceptionally long adolescence, not able to pass as human until they hit fifty years. In fact, the newly turned are like awkward adolescents, not quite mastering their instincts or their powers.
But Mercy is special: despite turning vampire only two years earlier, she has become an effective fighter. Hers is a curious learning curve, as Matt teaches her how to appear human. In her cage, she wears pajamas and watches Will Smith movies, but she lacks the ability to comprehend sarcasm. Out in the street, she is a hunter. Mercy is both self-sufficient and surprisingly vulnerable, and Matt feels increasing parental concern for her safety and welfare.
To complicate matters, there is Erin McRea, a private investigator hired by a mysterious client to hunt him down. As she is pulled into Hawkins’ fight with the vampires, she begins to discover all the supernatural goings-on of Brisbane. Not merely vampires but ghouls who act as snitches and dogs who are part werewolf.
While the action is definitely entertaining, it’s the personal interactions that give the story nice depth. Matt’s and Erin’s stories prove parallel: both are taking care of partners whose lives literally depend on them. Erin’s husband is dying of cancer, and Matt is the sole caretaker of a tamed vampire. With love comes responsibility, with all its costs.
Hayward knows how to bring backstory into the action. At no point does the plot come to a halt so the reader can get exposition. You learn about these characters as the story unfolds, with tempting bits of history. As Erin pieces together Matt’s past, you discover how he came to care for Mercy. And this is great storytelling: you’ve already witnessed the complexity of their relationship before you learn why they are together.
Hayward’s choice to switch between Matt’s first-person narration and Erin’s third-person POV was a little distracting at first. Overall, a fun read with nice surprises along the way.
The ebook edition had a sample of the second book in the series, Demon Dei. Just enough of a teaser to make me eager to get a copy.
(review of free book)