BOOK REVIEW: The President’s Vampire

One of the things I enjoy most about writing for Geek Syndicate is the pick ‘n’ mix nature of the books I am sent to review.  It can take me out of my well-worn comfort zone and introduce me to styles and authors I’d never have encountered otherwise.  The President’s Vampire is not the best example to affirm this as a good thing, but it is a case in point.

It’s an airport thriller; a fast paced piece of fluff filled with spy shenanigans, political intrigue, sex and violence.  The fact that the lead character is a vampire puts it more in my ballpark, but it’s still a very different read than I’m used to.  Is it any good though?  That rather depends on what you’re looking for.

The briefest description I can come up with to sum it up is ‘Action trash with a geek veneer.’  If that’s your cup of tea, I’ll see you after the jump.

Back in the day, Tom Clancy had a steam-roller of a success with his character Jack Ryan, a Can-Do guy cutting a swathe through red-tape, politics and villains alike to Get The Job Done.  It’s a simple wish in a complex world and, whilst it would be incredibly damaging in real life, it’s a fantasy easy to relate to.  Christopher Farnsworth seems to be going for the same vibe here, leaning more towards Bond-style action with an overlay of Horror.

The President’s Vampire is the second book in his series, following on from 2010’s Blood Oath.  Nathaniel Cade is America’s biggest secret: a vampire super-agent sworn to protect his country’s interests; bound to it by the blood of Abraham Lincoln.  Cade is a one-man army, taking down (and covering up) the more supernatural threats facing Mankind.  In the first book, he saved the world and got himself a new handler, Zachary Barrows.  Zach is a fresh-faced politico who took a wrong turn in the West Wing and found himself in a very different kind of job.  He’s the character we’re supposed to relate to and, by and large, he’s a decent guy.

By this second volume, Zach has grown more comfortable in his role and forged a solid working relationship with Cade.  Neither of them exactly have a life outside of work (more on that later) and the restlessness that this causes him forms the backbone to Zach’s story here.  Meanwhile, Nathaniel has bigger fish to fry – fresh out of Innsmouth.  Abner Marsh’s genes have gone viral.  Now the clock is ticking to prevent a major outbreak which could spell the end of Humanity.  As a fan of the works of HP Lovecraft, the first hint of his world appearing in the book put a smile firmly on my face.  Handled well, a modern-day Mythos tale packed with action could be brilliant.  Sad to say, my smile didn’t last long.  If you’re only interested in whether or not I recommend this book, you can move along.  I give it 1/5.  If you want to know why I rate it so low, read on.

Now, I’m not going to rake over everything I disliked about the book.  It’d be boring for you and way too time-consuming for me.  There are some elements I appreciated (the Shadow Men, the ‘wiggle-room’ Cade finds in his Oath when faced with corruption, one or two of the action sequences) but they are severely outweighed by the rest.  My main issues come under the headings of Taste, Consistency and Quality.

Taste – There are true horrors in the world, perpetrated by real people.  Taking a real atrocity and giving it a secret history is exploitative and crass.  It demeans the victims and reduces the web of events behind it to simplistic rubbish.  In the first few pages, Osama Bin Laden is revealed to be a lizard-man really, who didn’t even believe in God (gasp).  It’s childish in conception and jingoistic in implication.  Stick it in a subversive comedy like Team America: World Police and you might just get away with it, but there’s no self mockery here.  To be clear, this is an action scene in the prologue, not a major plot twist, but it’s indicative of the level and taste of exploitation throughout.

Consistency – There are so many ways this book doesn’t add up: the monsters are more reptile than Deep One, character motivations seem stitched together to serve the plot and science is pissed all over.  Throughout the text there are many throwaway references to other works of fiction (and films), scattered throughout to give this world a greater sense of scale.  It was quite a nice touch to link The Thing with At The Mountains Of Madness – both of which contain shape-shifting aliens, but including such oblique things as The Shadow and A Nightmare On Elm Street (along with innumerable Lovecraftian nods) adds nothing to the book.  If anything it just reminds you of other, better stories.  In a bizarre choice, Lovecraft’s Cthulhu is dismissed in the text as a work of fiction, whilst the reader is made to infer that most of his other stories are historical fact.  [Head/Desk]

Quality – This is not a well written book.  The characters have a paucity of internal life, and fundamentally do nothing but their jobs.  Fragments of personality are thrown out there but the focus is always on plot momentum and jabbing those adrenaline buttons.  There’s no flare in imagination or prose, though.  Farnsworth favours short, clipped sentences to lend urgency to his situations.  Used sparingly, these flashes of action and emotion can really drive a passage along, but overuse leads to a simplistic tone and an ugly read.  Uglier still is the portrayal of women (as untrustworthy sexual objects) and the general lack of regard for normal people (as a mindless herd.)  It is clear that Cade and Barrows credit Humanity with having some redeeming value, but neither they or Farnsworth seem quite able to articulate why.  It comes to something when you reach the end a book and you’re actively disappointed that they managed to stop Armageddon.

Look, I can’t go on with this.  You get the point.  If the entertainment system is broken and you’ll grab just about anything to distract you on a frazzling long-haul flight, consider this one for its brevity and pace.  But seriously, you have better books on your shelves.  Pack them.


Reviewer: Dion Winton-Polak
Rating: 1/5

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