Book Review: James Lovegrove’s Redlaw.
And once again, it’s time for a trip to THE BOX!
James Lovegrove’s Redlaw stood out from most of the other random entries in THE BOX, in that it’s an actual ‘modern’ novel, as opposed to random Sci-fi/fantasy cranked out in the 80’s or whatever.
Redlaw makes you think it’s an Urban Fantasy novel– what, with the modern day setting and vampires and all … but that’s not quite right. Instead, the book draws more from 70’s and 80’s cop flicks … albeit with a slightly fang-y tilt. But perhaps I should explain.
Redlaw is named after its protagonist, John Redlaw, a vampire cop. Or, uh, a cop who watches over vampires, as opposed to being a vampire himself. It’s important to note these things in Urban Fantasy books, you know. Redlaw is tough and ornery and should be played by Rutger Hauer in the unlikely event Redlaw ever gets made into a movie. Redlaw distinguishes himself from the standard ‘maverick cop’ archetype in that he’s a devout Anglican– albeit one who’s going through a crisis of faith after the death of his partner. Because, again, maverick cop.
Anyway, in the world of Redlaw, vampires (or ‘sunless’ in the book’s parlance) are a legitimate problem, kept in check by the Sunless Housing and Disclosure Executive. SHADE, for short, because everyone loves a snappy acronym. Naturally, Redlaw and his buds are known as ‘shadies,’ ’cause why not? It’s their job to keep vampires in line, armed with holy water hand grenades and ashwood-tipped bullets– the latter being fired from special pistols called Cindermakers. It’s cheesy, but I can’t help but love novel twists on vampire-hunting equipment.
At first, I thought Lovegrove was going to go for an interesting tack, with vampires as a stand-in for Eastern European immigrants. I mean, they’re all coming from Transylvania, and have names like Grigori and stuff, right? There’s interesting ideas to be had with that.
The problem is, most of the vampires in the book are portrayed as desperate, depraved, and a naked threat to proper society. Hell, more often than not, whenever Redlaw or whoever investigates a vampire nest, the filth and “spoor” is emphasized … which makes me wonder how the hell a vampire poops, which in turn makes me realize I really don’t want the answer to that question. Which in turn makes me wonder why the heck the English government is going through so much trouble to protect something that’s a legitimate threat (personally, I’m of the ‘stake ’em all’ school of thought). Redlaw was published in 2011, but in this post-Brexit era we live in, I kind of have to look at it askance.
It doesn’t help that one of Redlaw’s minor antagonists is a Muslim SHADE agent who constantly is an asshole to Redlaw, and keeps on grumbling about how it’s heretical that his commanding officer is a woman, and so on. Or maybe I was just hoping for a more nuanced novel, in which a motley grouping of Christians and Muslims and maybe a Rabbi or something all teamed up to fight a horde of bloodthirsty undead. Instead, Lovegrove’s tone is more akin to old-fashioned British misanthropy, taking snarky digs at everybody. For example, the vampire-rights group is called ‘People for the Ethical Treatment of Sunless’– PETS, for short, and Lovegrove never passes up an opportunity to note how gothy and laced-out they all are. It kind of reminded me of Judge Dredd, just with vampires instead of mutants.
After some riots in the vampire district, Redlaw finds himself teaming up with a sexy super-vampire “shtriga” by the name of Illyria, and together they uncover a conspiracy involving pharmaceutical oligarchs and a coke-snorting, hooker-addicted politician, and I’m afraid I’m making it sound more interesting than it actually is.
See, Redlaw never quite gels as a novel, because Redlaw doesn’t quite gel as a character. Oh, sure, he’s grim and gritty and gets the job done … but his investigation of the whole conspiracy never quite ‘clicks.’ There are some fun action sequences, sure, but Redlaw and Illyria just sort of flail from one action sequence to another without much in the way of investigation. On top of that, the eeeeevil conspiracy … actually kind of has a good point. I mean, sure, they kill a bunch of people getting to it, and a lot of it is a ‘get rich quick’ kind of scheme, but the fundamental idea behind their plan is actually a good one, and proooobably could have been accomplished without all the blackmail and murder and so on. But where’s the fun in that?
Again, the core problem with Redlaw is its vampires. I’m fine with them being dangerous monsters instead of sparkly magic boyfriends, but the specific ‘illegal immigrant’ vibe gives Redlaw an … unfortunate context in this day and age. Then again, the original Dracula had a broad xenophobic streak, what, with that mustached foreigner coming to corrupt proper Englishwomen and all. This said, Lovegrove had enough interesting ideas in the book detailing just how society would deal with vampires to make me curious about his other work. I’d be willing to give one of his other books ago … if nothing else, to see if the snarky conservatism of Redlaw was a fluke or not.
Then again, there may be a reason I found Redlaw in a bulk box.