Friday, 29 May 2015

Quirk - Charlie Huston

The Joe Pitt novels of Charlie Huston

Reviewer: JW Hicks, author of Rats

This series of Vampyre novels are the epitome of Quirk, and are right at the top of my fave-list.

In Huston’s scarily innovative re-imaging of vampire noir, the style is as ferocious as the content. Huston employs no chapter breaks and no speech tags and the narration is first-person, exclusively through the main character: Joe Pitt.

While Vampyres band together in clans to facilitate survival, Joe Pitt, rogue vamp, goes solo, preferring freedom. But, being a loner, adrift from the safety of a warding clan, is to live on the last inch of a fast-crumbling cliff.

The five novels in the Joe Pitt Casebooks, are set in modern day New York City, with each clan occupying their own territory on Manhattan Island. In the first book, Already Dead, Joe gets mixed up with the Coalition, the city’s most powerful clan; a cross between the mafia and a corporation. To make things right not not only has he to find the missing child of influential parents, but kill a shambler (zombie) infected with flesh-eating bacteria and avoid the crazy Vampyre cult stalking him – all before the sun comes up.

In No Dominion, the second in the series, hard-talking Joe is hovering at the bottom of the barrel, out of blood, his stash empty. So he takes a job with the Society, a gang of liberal vamps. The job? To investigate the new high on the market, a killer scourge that could tear the roof off the Vampyre world and expose it to the human gaze. Turns out it’s a typical Joe Pitt job, involving enforcers, Vampyre hounds, anarchist turncoats, mystical zealots and a punk named the Count, all of them out to skin Joe’s hide.

In Book 3, there’s a battle brewing between the divided Clans of the city’s undead. Guess who’s stuck right in the middle? You’re right, Joe Pitt. He’s been dispatched into the uncharted territory of Brooklyn to seal an alliance with the Freaks. But gets swept into a murderous family feud that will paint the borough scarlet from Gravesend to Coney Island.

The fourth book, Every Last Drop, unlike the first three might concentrate less on the kill-em-all action, and more on dialogue, but still moves twice as fast as your everyday noir fantasy. After a year of hiding out in the bronx, Joe is offered an assignment he can’t refuse. In his search for answers he comes face to face with the horrendous secret that lies beneath the vampire world. Where do the powerful ones get all that blood?

The search for an answer takes him to Queens, and leaves him in possession of vision that he’ll never scrape off his retinas, as well as a bargaining chip that redefines his place in the Vampyre universe.

In the last Joe Pitt book, My Dead Body, civil war is raging. The Clans are at each other’s throats. Joe would be wise to stay out of it, but an old acquaintance drags him in.

Will Joe finally get the answers he’s been looking for?

This is a war with no middle ground, when the blood stops flowing, what side will Joe Pitt be on?
Will the loose ends be neatly tied?
You bet’cha.

Questions and Answers

Emailing his publisher brought no result, but I found an interview published in Ed Zitron’s blog. Ed is the founder of EZPR, an East Coast media relations firm. He has been published by Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, PC Gamer and PC Zone, and is the author of This is How You Pitch: How To Kick Ass in Your First Years in PR.

I emailed him for permission to reproduce the interview and he gave it willingly.

Charlie Huston on Detective Fiction, the Joe Pitt Casebooks and Vampires (With a Y.) 
Interviewed by Ed Zitron. 20/9/10 Follow Ed Zitron on Twitter: 

What made you bring vampires into a detective novel?

It was just one of those things. You're sitting around and thinking about your ideas, and suddenly it's a vampire detective - it isn't rocket science.

Were things like True Blood, Twilight, etc. part of the decision?

No. I don't need anybody's reaction to lead me. I mean I've never read [any of the Twilight] books. I'm not a very aware consumer of pop culture. Even though I write vampire books, it took a really long time for Twilight to penetrate my awareness. I can remember a long time ago having people write me emails and ask me what I thought of Twilight and I said, "What the f**k are you talking about? I have no idea."

Twilight bubbled up in my consciousness about the same time as Charlene Harris and the Sookie Stackhouse stuff, along with the True Blood show and the Twilight movie came about. It doesn't appeal to me at all. Ultimately, I don't like vampires that don't kill and eat [laughs]. You either find a way to take these creatures, and if you are going to use them as your protagonists, and take them on their own terms and find a way to deal with them on their own terms and still make them a character that somebody can get behind. Otherwise, you're just cheating. Well...okay, maybe that's unfair. You're writing something else.

How did the character of Joe Pitt, the protagonist of the books, come about?

Joe was kind of reaction to Hank Thompson, one of my other characters. I'd finished writing the first Hank Thompson book, Caught Stealing, and Hank is definitively not a tough guy. When Hank gets the upper hand on people, it's usually scenarios where he kind of gets the upper hand by accident. He steps on the end of the board and the board pops up and hits somebody else in the head. It was hard to keep him alive during the course of the book and when I starting Caught Stealing I'd originally thought Hank was going to be more of a tough guy, and it just didn't work out that way.

So, I really wanted to write about someone hard-boiled - someone who is a legitimate badass who I didn't have to constantly be rationalizing how he could survive things. I think I just, at some point really wanted to write a tough guy character. I don't even remember where the Vampire thing came in.

You obviously take a lot of inspiration from New York - the series is set there, after all - how long were you here, and how much did you travel?

I lived in NYC for 11 years - I think I wrote up to Half the Blood of Brooklyn before I went to Los Angeles. I then had to return to write Every Last Drop - so much of the book is set in the Bronx, and I hadn't spent much time there. So, I spent a few days in The Bronx.

The locations in Already Dead were very much just my everyday backdrop. The apartment that Joe lived in is actually an apartment that some friends of mine lived in. They had a ground floor and a separate room underneath some big set room, and that's how I kind of setup the architecture of Joe's apartment in Already Dead - the one where he's got a secret below-ground room. All the bars he hangs out are bars that I was hanging out at or had worked at one time or another.

There was even a time when I was spending up my every waking hour at the pizza place. That's the opening of the book, the pizza place where he gets a slice. That's where I'd stop on my way home from work - whenever I got off from bartending, that's where I'd stop off for a slice before I went home.

Has there ever been any talk of adapting the Joe Pitt books into film, TV, comics, anything like that?

There's a screenplay out there that I've read, actually - it's quite good. It was very faithful, but adapted the story in a more Hollywood way - for example, it took the relationship with Evie at the center, which was appropriate.

Who would you have cast as Joe, if you had the choice?

You know, I only have one answer for that, and he's not available - a young Robert Mitchum. That kind of imposing, swaggering, physical presence. He was so unflappable.

So, what's next for you?

Well, the next book is already done, and it's called Sleepless. It was a huge push for me because it's crime in a speculative setting. It's set in 2010, in Los Angeles - the premise is that there's a plague of sleeplessness that's infected 10% of the population. It's a multiple viewpoint narrative. As a result, it's a little denser in terms of the prose. It's not as lean as the stuff I've been writing, and it's definitely much more somber in tone.

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