BOOK REVIEW: Knuckle Supper by Drew Stepek

The vampire has survived as a potent figure haunting both fiction and our imaginations, I venture to say, because of its singular adaptability. As a metaphor or as just a plain nasty piece of work, the bloodsucker has appealed in all its various incarnations and reimaginings ever since Bram Stoker popularised the Count in 1897 in his novel Dracula (the vampire had appeared in popular media before then, but it wasn’t until after Stoker’s novel that things really took off). His character and motivations were amoral, and he considered mortals to be mere mobile blood-filled vessels from which it was his right to feed. The vampire was taken up with gusto by succeeding generations of writers, each adding new elements to the creature’s mythology and in the process creating solid foundations upon which the writers coming after them could add their own ideas. Ever since then we’ve had all manner of types of blood-hungry iterations of the basic model: lesbian vampires, Nazi vampires, medical vampires, even vampires as virus and parasite, right up to the current fad for soul-searching, angst-ridden vampires unwilling to hurt humans and capable of feeling emotion, courtesy of the anodyne Twilight novels and films.

And then here comes Drew Stepek, author of Godless, with yet another re-envisioning of the vampire. He can claim some pedigree when it comes to dealing with these undead creatures, as he once worked on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But these vampires are as far away as you can imagine from either Joss Whedon or Stephenie Meyer’s creations – these guys are truly nasty.

The story takes place in the seedy underbelly of Hollywood, where RJ is the leader of the Knucklers, one of the many brutal vampire gangs currently parcelling up various parts of the city’s territory. While out hitting on one of the many pimps within his stomping ground, he and his accomplice Dez come across a 12-year-old prostitute called Bait who, in time, causes RJ to question things and injects some humanity into his life. Other members of the Knucklers think he’s gone soft and that Bait is not only a liability but also should have been disposed of a lot earlier. And when RJ comes into possession of a bag of heroin, then things just start to unravel, causing one of the biggest and most powerful gangs in the city to want to know where their drugs are. And don’t even mention The Cloth, a super-secret Catholic organisation dedicated to wiping out the vampires – they’re just trouble, on more than one level.

These vampires, however, aren’t the classic bite-the-neck-suck-the-blood-and-turn-‘em variety – these are vampires in name only, as they aren’t immortal, don’t bite their victims, can’t make those victims into vampires, and can walk about during the daytime; they are vicious sons of bitches, however. They’re drug-addicts, using the blood of ruptured, living victims as a means of getting their highs in a particularly nasty manner. This is gut-churning stuff, certainly not for the faint of heart or those possessed of delicate sensibilities. The violence here is sadistically raw, the drug use rampant and central to the whole thesis, plus if you like your sex at least partly romantic then you’re looking in the wrong place. It’s an uncompromising look at street life, at the endless cycle of the predator versus prey, of dog eat dog, and at the destruction and wasted lives left behind; it’s also an equally uncompromising look at unbridled drug-dependency, child abuse, the blatant hypocrisy lying at the heart of both people and religious organisations, and wanton brutality as a way of life and expression.

Stepek does two things here: first, he successfully updates the vampire genre, by bringing it into the sphere of a modern Babylon, a city given over to superficiality and excess in all things. Secondly, rather than honing in on the degradation and filth implicit in our notions of what inner city life is like (fostered by a lurid media in order to sell newspapers and garner ratings) and thereby damning all the lowlifes, it turns everything on its head by pointing a finger at the very institutions that we are told we should trust, ie., parents, adults, law-enforcement authorities and the church. No punches are pulled here, and nor should they be.

This is a genre book, certainly, but it also carries with it a high-level of uncomfortable realism. The language may be street and the urban ecosystem depicted in it an accurate description of the rotten, decaying concrete jungle prevalent in all modern metropolises, unintelligible to all but those who inhabit its environs, but the central themes in this book speak to us all. We may go out of our way to sweep the human detritus and malcontents under the carpet and out of sight, but those elements still thrive in the darkness and continue to fester. Knuckle Supper may not harbour any pretentions as to its value as a searing indictment of a failed social system, yet there is undeniably a conscience contained within its hip, bloody narrative, one that isn’t afraid to confront us with unpalatable truths. It may not be to everyone’s taste, certainly, but to those who do like their vampires nasty, violent and amoral, then this is definitely the book for you. And, unlike a great deal of similar books, this one has considerable meat on its bones.

(It also has a heart as well – 10% of the profits from this book will be donated to a charity called Children of the Night, an organisation whose aim is to rescue young teenage girls from ending up on the streets and falling into prostitution, and give them a home, an education and the best thing of all – hope.)

This review appeared at Bookgeeks.


Reviewed by Simon Marshall-Jones

Publisher: Alphar Publishing

Publication date: November 2010

ISBN: 978-0-9786024-5-1


One Response to “BOOK REVIEW: Knuckle Supper by Drew Stepek”

  1. […] The vampire has survived as a potent figure haunting both fiction and our imaginations, I venture to say, because of its singular adaptability. As a metaphor or as […] book review – Search […]

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