By Marty Mulrooney
Bloodshot is the latest novel from award-winning author Cherie Priest. Offering a change of pace from her previous science fiction/steampunk novels, Bloodshot tells the story of Raylene Pendle (AKA Cheshire Red), a vampire and world-renowned thief living in Seattle. When fellow vampire Ian Stott asks for help, the usually reclusive Raylene sets out on a mission to retrieve missing government files that will see her unexpectedly teaming up with a kick-ass drag queen, Men in Black hot on their trail…
Bloodshot is an easy book to like. From the very first page – scratch that, from the very first line – Rayene Pendle’s first-person narrative grabs your attention. “You wouldn’t believe some of the weird shit people pay me to steal.” Raylene is a vampire – no real spoiler there – but her portrayal is unmistakably human. She is a worrier, an over-thinker, neurotic and OCD. She is also bad-ass, humorous and surprisingly insightful. As protagonists go, she is top notch.
The story begins with Raylene receiving a card in the mail, which is worrying because it arrives at her home address, is addressed specifically to her and is handwritten, in handwriting she doesn’t recognise. For a woman on three Most Wanted lists internationally – albeit listed incorrectly as a man known only as “Cheshire Red” – this is seriously worrying. After freaking out and running from room to room with a ‘big black knife’, she rings her potential new client and arranges a meeting at a nearby wine bar.
Ian Stott pressed his lips together and squeezed out a thin smile. “I trust you’re comfortable with dangerous cases. I can’t imagine you charge exorbitant amounts for mere cakewalks.”
“I’m not afraid of a little dirty work and, generally speaking, I’m not afraid of pissing people off. But there are circles whose notice I’d prefer to escape. If there’s no House hunting for you, then why set yourself apart? Who are you afraid of?”
“In my state? Almost everyone. Even you. Especially you.”
Ian’s mysterious case is the backbone of the story, with Raylene looking into a shady government operation where vampires – and possibly other species too – were captured, imprisoned and experimented on. Project Bloodshot. As previously noted, Raylene is a thoroughly human character despite her lack of a pulse and Cherie Priest does a superb job of making vampires seem like real, multilayered people. There are good and bad people in the world, with shades of grey in between, and the same applies to vampires. Raylene does some highly questionable things throughout Bloodshot, but you quickly warm to her again when she describes her latest disguise as a “bright red jacket and a black pencil skirt with fuck-me kitten pumps.”
Raylene’s investigation soon takes her to Atlanta, where she spends the majority of her time avoiding Men in Black before teaming up with an ex-Navy SEAL (Adrian deJesus) who is now a drag queen called Sister Rose. Adrian’s sister went missing several years before and her fate seems to somehow tie in with Ian Stott’s case. Raylene also has to continually worry about her warehouse in Seattle, which is home to numerous stolen goods, two squatting children and one dead body buried in the basement…
Sister Rose barked “Raylene!” but I couldn’t answer without revealing myself, so I didn’t. And when one of the feds began a grim charge down the narrow thoroughfare, I swooped down and picked him up Batman-style: one hand over his mouth, one arm around his neck. I held him up off the ground and let him struggle while the third fed came scooting onto the scene. But hey, since I was holding this big heavy lug of a bastard (and if I were to be honest, gradually losing my feet’s grip on the pipe), I swung him around like a pendulum – breaking his neck with an almost accidental snap – and I clocked the incoming suit with his buddy’s corpse.
Bloodshot should appeal to any fans of a good mystery or thriller novel, regardless of the vampire twist. Vampires have most definitely been overused in recent years but Bloodshot tries something entirely new with them and pulls it off admirably. Raylene Pendle is wonderful creation. My only complaint is that the entwining mysteries of Project Bloodshot and Adrian’s sister are still left largely under wraps by the book’s conclusion. This is most definitely a story that focuses on the journey rather than the destination. Take comfort in knowing that the eagerly anticipated follow-up, Hellbent, is due for release in September 2011…
9 OUT OF 10