Bite by Gardner Goldsmith (book review).

May 28, 2014 | By | Reply More

Gardner Goldsmith is an American author who has written for various US genre television series including ‘Star Trek: Voyager’. ‘Bite’ is his debut novella, published by independent publisher Pendragon Press and it includes two very short horror stories alongside the main attraction.

Bite

‘Bite’ is the story of Sylvester ‘Sylv’ Cole, a moderately successful vampire hunter who has decided that it’s time to hang up his hammer and stakes. However, just before he heads off into the sunset, a beautiful brunette called Ashley appears in his favourite bar and begs for his help. Earlier the same day, Sylv killed the vampire that sired Ashley’s twin sister. She’s grateful to him for that but believes that another vamp from the same coven is now after her. Sylv refuses to get involved and it’s only after adistraught Ashley has stormed out of the bar that he relents. He realises that he’s fallen for her. Ashley, though, is out there on her own, vulnerable and defenceless. Sylv will need to pull out all the stops if he’s to stop her ending up like her sister. Is he up to the task?

If the elements of the story sound familiar, it’s because they are. At first glance, this looks and sounds like countless other attempts to create a mash-up between vampire fiction and hard-boiled crime. There’s a tough but sensitive hero, a beautiful dame who needs help and the undead lurking in the background. Where Goldsmith scores highly is in the way he subverts the stereotypes, most obviously by showing us a hero who is not particularly good at what he does and knows it. However, rather than use this to create a comedy, he continues to ramp up the tension, leaving the reader unsure what sort of story they are reading and how to respond to it. For me, this worked really well, creating something fresh and new.

If I had to make a criticism it would be that there is one piece of rather obvious, irrelevant and unnecessary authorial intervention in the middle of the story. Sylvester, while running away from a couple of cops, suddenly has a mental rant about the fact that he has to pay taxes towards the cost of the police and the wider public sector. Notwithstanding the fact that Sylvester is probably paid cash in hand for the vampire hunting he does, so pays no taxes anyway, it seems a little unlikely that an apolitical character like Sylv would focus on issues of fiscal rectitude when he was running away from men with guns. On the other hand, the author’s biography, at the back of the book, makes clear that he is a committed libertarian. Nothing wrong with that. To my eyes, though, it’s Goldsmith’s views coming out of Sylv’s mouth at this point in the story and they don’t fit with what else is going on at the time.

The two short horror stories that sit alongside the main story here are called ‘Alone’ and ‘Sigil’. ‘Alone’ follows the thoughts of a deeply disturbed man, stuck inside his boarded up home with only the corpses of his wife and daughter to keep him company while he waits for the zombie apocalypse. This is a very evocative piece of flash fiction with an excellent twist in the tail.

‘Sigil’ is told by a lonely old man who passes his evenings in his remote New England home re-living the exploits of his youth by re-reading his old diaries. When his eyes or perhaps his mind, start playing tricks on him, these cosy reminiscences quickly take on a darker and more supernatural quality. This story oozes dread and packs a lot of tension into a small space.

‘Bite’ is an impressive introduction to Gardner Goldsmith’s fiction. The main story is an interesting mash-up of vampire fiction and hard-boiled crime, while the two short stories published alongside it showcase Goldsmith’s ability to create suspense and wrong-foot his readers. As if all that wasn’t enough, the book is very nicely produced and features an arresting cover picture by Ben Baldwin. This is an excellent debut and I look forward to reading Goldsmith’s next book.

Patrick Mahon

May 2014

(pub: Pendragon Press. 92 page paperback. Price: £ 4.99. ISBN: 978-1-90686-439-2)

check out websites: www.pendragonpress.net and www.gardnergoldsmith.com

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Category: Books, Horror

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