Night Life by Ray Garton (2005): In 1987’s Live Girls, nebbish Davey Owen ended up battling vampires in New York — and becoming one. In this sequel, the story picks up 18 years later, with Owen and fellow vampire (and lady love) Casey Thorne living in Los Angeles, making a nice living as screenwriters of romantic comedies, and staying on the straight-and-narrow as ‘good’ vampires who neither kill nor exploit humans.
But the bad vampires of Live Girls — ‘brutals’ — still have it in for Davey and Casey. When a millionaire horror novelist enlists private investigators Gavin Keoph and Karen Moffett to find out if vampires are real, the trail leads to Davey and Casey and fellow (though non-vampiric) Live Girls survivor Walter Benedek. Thus, a dirty little war breaks out.
Garton’s vampires aren’t supernatural. Though they can shapeshift, they’re not affected by religious icons. They’re hard to kill, but sub-machine-gun fire will do the trick, as will anything that destroys the head, or separates it from the body.
The rhythms of this novel resemble those of a thriller or a hard-boiled detective novel. The stakes are relatively intimate, the battles relatively small in scale. The thematic concerns here lie both with the cost of taking a stand, and the larger societal cost of NOT taking a stand: the brutals operate mostly with impunity while the good vampires try to stay out of their way unless directly attacked by them. It’s a situation that’s morally unsustainable for the good vampires; pragmatically speaking, the status quo can’t be maintained forever anyway. The brutals are rapacious and invasive: they want theirs, and they also want yours. Really, they’re almost perfect capitalists.
Night Life deftly and concisely sketches out the parameters of this vampiric sub-society, connecting it to more ‘normal’ human vices while making the brutals live up their nickname: they are indeed brutal, creatures indulging in their desires without worrying about the consequences for others. They’re like neo-conservative hyper-capitalists, though at least the brutals were infected by something real, and not simply an idea — and they’re not hypocritical about their sub-Darwinian struggle to devour everything. Highly recommended.