Sometimes I remember to put “spoiler” warnings on these book reviews, sometimes I don’t—in the latter case I never worry about it as I think it’s generally accepted that I might leak some information about the plot in the review, while still not giving the ending away. Today it feels more important to say “spoiler alert” as the book I’m reviewing, The Suicide Motor Club by Christopher Buehlman, takes great lengths to keep the major genre-defining element of the story until about sixty pages in as well as keeping it a secret in the promotional material on the book jacket. So I’m going to respect that with this first paragraph, which should mean that anybody seeing this blog post on an RSS feed shouldn’t be able to see the spoilers that I’m about to spill if they don’t want to.
But why Buehlman wanted to keep the fact that the book is a vampire novel a secret at first is beyond me, as once the secret’s out the vampires in the book remain active as vampires for the rest of it. Perhaps the idea was to build more on the story of the main protagonist, Judith Lamb as she suffers an attack by the vampire gang in the story. All we see at first is a gang of muscle-car fanatics abducting her child out of her family’s car window and then her car getting wrecked, killing her husband and forcing her to stay in the hospital. Because of the trauma and her religious upbringing she decides to become a nun, which leads to her being recruited by a gang of vampire hunters to track down and destroy the very vampires that took her son away from her.
We get to the point where she’s accepted into the convent when the story shifts to showcase the vampire gang for a while and how they roam the country, looking for human victims to feed upon. This is where the one major failing of the story comes into play. We get an in-depth backstory for a new character, told from his or her perspective in the moments right before the vampires kill them. We become invested in a character only for them to be brutally murdered. Once is intriguing, a few times gives it a surreal, unearthly dreamlike feel, but then keeping it going throughout the book becomes tiring. It’s not like the book needs to be so long. It can easily be shortened by dropping a few of these passages without lessening its impact.
At the same time, however, the book doesn’t feel that long. It reads quickly, so the extra parts go by fast. It helps that for the most part the book is well-written. It suffers occasionally of the syndrome prevalent in modern fiction which is to heighten dramatic effect with one-sentence paragraphs, which has become a cheap trick in recent times. But such moments are brief and often written with a sense of humor so it’s not totally unforgivable. It’s not so much that these dramatic tricks and extra passages necessarily detract from the story; they simply don’t add to it.
The book is set in the late sixties, which adds color to the story and provides a setting devoid of modern technology that would help The Bereaved hunt down the vampires. Instead of tracking down Gothic vampires with GPS built into cell phones, we’re tracking the movement of a highway gang using newspaper clippings and informants.
Despite its problems, The Suicide Motor Club is recommended as long as you don’t mind graphic detail of vicious killing and high-speed car chases. The character development is deep and rich. The vampire lore is also well-thought out although not exactly offering anything new to the table. That’s not necessary, but considering how much extra stuff there is in the book it’s surprising that we don’t get some new, special rules for vampire fiction. Nonetheless, this book is fun and should be checked out.