This is an ambitious homage to Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot, with some effectively gruesome setpieces. Michael Rowe does a Game of Thrones on his large, varied cast. The fact that so many of the main characters’ fates conclude in the wings of the story was very frustrating, as it negates the reader’s emotional investment.
I was also quite alarmed at the particularly diabolical treatment of the two lonely gay characters in the novel, which read uncomfortably like some kind of infernal judgement of their sexuality, seen as being as abnormal as vampirism. But that is probably my own interpretation.
Apart from the gay storyline, Rowe has gone out of his way to write as ploddingly conventional a vampire novel as he could, with none of the tricks or inversions so beloved of modern horror. The entire Bram Stoker checklist is resolutely signposted, from the aversion to crosses and holy water to the nest and changing into bats.
There is a lot of Stephen King in here, from the quite gorgeous nature writing to the presence of saintlike children and animals, who get to save the day (but who survive as haunted adults, doomed to return to their loss of innocence).
For me, strangely enough, the best part of the book was one of the addenda, ‘Being the Last True Testament and Relation of Father Alphonse Nyon’, which is an effective (and affecting) pastiche of Black Robe by Brian Moore.
What puzzled me about this ending, which portrays the beginning of the story, as it were, is that Father Nyon clearly gets bitten by a vampire urchin, but does not become a vampire himself. Heck, even the family dog becomes a vampire, so this seems a strange lapse of Rowe’s strict logic.
Still, there is great potential here. I would love to see Rowe unfetter himself from the horror genre, which can be deeply formulaic and conservative, and write about what truly terrifies him, no holds barred. Now that would be a great tribute to Stephen King.