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John Steakley's 'Vampire$'

First published in 1990, this source reference for John Carpenter's massive new film 'Vampires' tells the story of a Vatican-backed group of hired assassins with a very particular prey. Led by the determined and practical Jack Crow, the team use modern technology alongside the more traditional stakes to rid American towns of their infestations of the undead.

When most of his crew are wiped out in a savage and unexpected attack, Crow's nerve starts to fail him. An old fighting comrade from years back, a pacifistic drug smuggler called Felix, reluctantly joins them, and as the tension mounts it becomes obvious that Felix is taking over the role of leader. Felix is a dangerous liability to the group at times, but also its keenest asset: although his natural instinct is to use the threat of gunfire as a deterrent rather than start shooting indiscriminately, he becomes a deadly sharp shooter with an ability to kill like an automaton when the need is most pressing. As Crow's fear and weakness grows, so the team come to rely more heavily on the reluctant hero Felix for support.

Also along for the ride is a young rich girl with a dark past, Davette. Posing as a reporter doing a piece for a Texas paper on the vampire slaying outfit, she travels with them on their hunts, gradually becoming ever more deeply embroiled with their strangely pathological outlook on life, and falling hopelessly in love with the wretched Felix. When the revelation comes that she has had a past involvement with vampires, that she had been under the spell of one until managing to escape them, Felix starts to return her love. Now on the run from the vampire who ruined her, Davette is the unwitting link between the vamps and the hunters right up to the book's startling dénouement.

'Vampire$' is not simply a good versus evil shoot 'em up – though the body count of both mortals and immortals is pretty high by the time the final page rolls around – but it also has some deep philosophical points to make about the nature and purpose of religion, and the corruption in wealthy American society. The vampires are shown as adaptable and practical, though dangerously egotistical in many cases; whilst the hunters are shown in a very human light, complete with faults, fears and infallibilities. The reader has absolute sympathy for the torture endured by the young Davette, the psychological wounding of Crow's spirit by the realisation that the vampires are on a personal vendetta against him, and the paralysing fear that turns Felix into a blind fighting machine, little better than the vampires themselves.

That the hunters are sanctioned by the Vatican is a nice touch, and the occasional interludes featuring the mysterious bishop and the enthusiastic young priest who joins the team, Father Adam, are revealing of a great pragmatism in the Church. Vampires exist, and because they exist they are part of God's plan; however, they are also the agents of evil and must be destroyed. So get in the best people for the job: people who are equally practical, who have no families to feel guilty about, who work well together and back each other up. People who are expendable, but know they are and are prepared to do the job anyway.

Perhaps the best summation of the attitude of this book and its central characters is to be found in the frontispiece quote from the inimitable Jack Crow: "I know fucking well there's a God because I kill vampires for a living. Are you listening? I kill vampires for money. A lot of it. So don't tell me there ain't no God. I know fucking well there's a God. I just don't understand Him."

see also on this site: John Carpenter

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