Vampires must be the ultimate die-heard creatures of all supernatural fiction genres. No matter how many vampire novels are published, more keep coming, and even though we hear that publishers are tired of them, the books keep getting published. Could it be that readers can’t have enough of these bloodthirsty fiends — either as vicious monsters or beautiful, sophisticated beings trapped in the darkness of their natures? Whether it’s kids, young adults or adults, people seem to love them.
I dislike gory novels where vampires are portrayed as demons from hell, as well as romance novels where they’re overly sugarcoated. The type of vampire fiction I enjoy would fall more under ‘general fiction’, as in the type of Anne Rice’s works where the creatures are pictured as real-life beings with a certain degree of education and sophistication, but still be the trapped, tortured souls who fall somewhere between good and evil. This type of fiction, though having elements of horror, doesn’t fall under the horror category. A closer description would be general fiction with elements of the paranormal or magic realism.
Having read so many vampire novels as I have, it is seldom that I find one that surprises me or that strays enough from the vampire conventions to appear original, and this is why I was pleasantly surprised to read Mortal Touch, by Inanna Arthen, published by By Light Unseen Media, a new press which solely focuses on serious vampire fiction and nonfiction.
For sure, Mortal Touch doesn’t follow the general vampire rules and conventions — for one thing, Arthen’s vampires don’t even have fangs. But without giving more away about the nature of Arthen’s immortal creatures (I’ll leave the pleasure of finding that out as you read the book), let’s go into some of the plot:
The protagonist, Regan Calloway, is a psychic who runs a little antique shop in a small town in New England. She has worked with the authorities as a psychic consultant before but now lives a pretty lonely, secluded life, mainly because of the trauma of past experiences when she dealt with murders and serial killers. Regan can ‘see’ and ‘feel’ things when she touches objects that have belong to either the victim or killer. Now, a new series of strange assaults is capturing the people’s attention and has the press and the police in turmoil.
Dr. Hiram Clauson, an old friend and colleague she used to work with during her past involvements with the police, calls her and asks her to help him interview the victims. At the same time, a mysterious so-called writer named Jonathan Vaughn has moved into the town and Regan’s beautiful yet mentally unstable best friend Veronica seems to be falling for him. Jonathan seems very reclusive and aloof and Veronica asks Regan to meet him in order to learn more about him with her psychic powers.
But to go back to the strange assaults, Regan agrees to help. The victims show very little recollection of the attack — as if their minds were wiped out — plus, they seem to be missing a lot of blood and sport ugly-looking scars on their necks. Later, when Regan finally meets Jonathan and ‘touches’ him, she’s startled by the realization that he’s connected to the strange crimes which have been haunting the surrounding area. Is he the attacker? What is his nature? Later on, the situation gets more complicated as Regan and Jonathan begin to be attracted to each other and Veronica gets paranoid and suicidal as her obsession with Jonathan gets out of control. This creates a sort of destructive triangle between them.
Mortal Touch is an unusual vampire novel in that the characters are not romanticized in any way and are portrayed in a realistic manner. Unlike most heroines from your regular vampire novels, Regan is neither particularly young nor beautiful. The same can be said for Jonathan. One thing that put me off — and this is a matter of personal taste — is that Rowan swears a lot, and for some reason I couldn’t associate that to her demure, psychic, antique shop persona. Jonathan is appealing and interesting and his charisma comes through the pages in spite of him being your everyday, nice guy who happens to be a vampire. The setting does offer a lot of atmosphere and Arthen is successful in creating the perfect ambiance for the mysterious New England town, with its picturesque antique shops and long dark roads surrounded by woods.
Though the story is interesting and intriguing, at times I found it a bit slow with some superfluous dialogue of things which are already known to the reader but are being reiterated; something that the tiny print seems to amplify. Taking aside these negative minor points, this is a work that is well written and that at times gets quite suspenseful and horrific. There is a scene where Veronica is trapped in a dungeon-like cellar that made my skin crawl. Also, Veronica’s unstable manic behavior is drawn especially well.
Mortal Touch is definitely a novel vampire fiction aficionados will want to add to their collection. This is not a novel to be gobbled overnight, though, but one to savor slowly and patiently, so if you like your fiction with a lot of details and a lot of meat in it, this is the book for you. I certainly will keep my eye on this author and this press, and hope to review more of their titles in the future.