Writers are always seeking new ways to present old ideas. This could simply be approaching an old story from a different perspective, or it could mean twisting that old story until it’s become something completely original. Charlie Huston seems to have perfected the latter in “No Dominion,” the second of his Joe Pitt Casebooks.
Huston is a contemporary detective fiction
writer from the old, hard-boiled school – think Raymond Chandler with a Quentin Tarantino twist. Huston’s latest creation, Joe Pitt, is an unlicensed Manhattan private eye with his own twist: He’s also a vampire. Think Count Dracula meets Bruce Willis’s role in “Sin City.”
From dawn until dusk, the Manhattan of “No Dominion” is the Manhattan of today. Once the sun goes down, however, things change. Location is no longer a matter of uptown,
midtown or downtown. What matters is which Clan’s turf you find yourself on. North of 110th Street, that would be the Hood; in the East Village, the Society;
and in between, the powerful Coalition.
These Clans – opposing vampire factions to offer safety, security and brotherhood to their members – provide the underpinnings of the Joe Pitt story cycle.
As “No Dominion” begins, the balance between the Clans is threatened by a new mystery drug making its rounds through the Society’s rank and file. Pitt, former Society member turned vigilante private investigator, is called on to investigate the crisis and trace the drug to its source.
With dwindling supplies of both cash and blood, and an HIV-positive (but non-vampiric) girlfriend in need of expensive treatment, Pitt has no choice but to accept.
Pitt’s quest will lead him to the farthest reaches of Manhattan and draw the ire of all the major Clan leaders. But as he delves deeper, settling old grudges and making new ones, Joe Pitt will learn a few things about those leaders that the vampire hierarchy isn’t anxious to publicize. But this time, it’s not just his life on the line – if Pitt can’t come through, his girlfriend won’t make it alive much longer.
In a race against time, he must not only discover the source of the mystery drug, but how much the Clan leaders know about it and how far they’re willing to go to keep that knowledge a secret.
From sweeping portraits of Manhattan’s seedy underbelly to fast-paced dialogue that wouldn’t seem out of place on an episode of “24,” “No Dominion” strikes the reader as more visual or aural than literary. This isn’t to say that Huston doesn’t have the literary angle down pat – the title alludes to a Dylan Thomas poem and references to Greek tragedy are sprinkled throughout the text.
His subjects may not be the most high-brow, but Huston writes with an erudition rarely seen even among the literary of his contemporaries.
A violent romp through Harlem, the Village and everywhere in between, Charlie Huston’s “No Dominion” is one of the most original and intelligent treatments of New York, detective fiction and vampire legend to emerge in recent memory.
Peter Chomko can be reached at email@example.com.