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13 Bullets Cover Picture

13 Bullets

David Wellington

First published 2007       373 pages

Summary (from the book jacket)

All the official reports say they are dead - extinct since the late '80s, when a fed named Jameson Arkeley nailed the last vampire in a fight that nearly killed him. But the evidence proves otherwise. When a state trooper named Caxton calls the FBI looking for help in the middle of the night, it is Arkeley who gets the assignment. He knows what most people don’t; there is one vampire left, and she is rotting in an abandoned asylum, plotting and biding her time in a way that only the undead can.

Caxton is out of her league on this case and more than a little afraid, but Arkeley has made it plain that there is only one way out. And the worst thing is the feeling that the vampires want more than just her blood. They want her for a reason – one she can't guess; a reason her partner knows but won't say; a reason she has to find out – or die trying. Now there are only thirteen bullets between Caxton and Arkeley and the vampires. There are only thirteen bullets between us, the living, and them, the damned.

The Review

13 Bullets is the first book in a series of gory vampire tales by horror novelist David Wellington. David Wellington’s previous writing credits include the zombie-ridden “Monster Island” as well as the “Cursed” and “Ravaged” werewolf tales (published with the titles of “Frostbite” and “Overwinter” in the USA).

The story of 13 Bullets revolves around what happens when state trooper Laura Caxton discovers vampire activity while performing a routine traffic stop. All of a sudden she is a thrown into a world of vampires and vampire hunting. Along the way she introduces readers to a USA where vampires exist but are thankfully extremely rare – almost extinct in fact. These vampires are loathsome creatures filled with bloodlust fuelled violence. Their existences are wholly unnatural and their looks are akin to Max Schreck in the movie Nosferatu but with less personal hygiene and way more teeth. Their mere presence an anathema to the living world, but their longevity and near invincibility make it possible for them to live a very long time… even if they do end up reduced to a few strings of withered flesh and old bones – the ultimate fate that awaits every vampire who lives long enough. So it’s fair to say that these vampires are polar opposites from the beautiful and sexy vampires of the paranormal romance ilk. These are old-school vampires – horrific killing machines with no finer feelings.

I enjoy reading horror stories as much as I enjoy paranormal romance. In fact after reading an excess of romance there is nothing more refreshing than a good old-fashioned blood-soaked horror story to refocus my brain out of romance mode. However, I found 13 Bullets a challenging read in places. The horror was over-blown and for me there came a point in the book where I had read so many completely over the top gory things that I started to find the horror funny rather than menacing or horrific.

There is just a never ending parade of undead corpses rotting on their feet, self-mutilating vampires, self-mutilating undeads who tear off their own faces and innocent bystanders who die in many, many bloody ways that the overall effect was lost. I couldn’t help but feel that the rural Pennsylvania setting was wasted in this story – it should have been creepy like Stephen King or John Connelly’s rural Maine but there was no real atmosphere to it. The vampire prison was in a disused TB asylum. The eerie atmosphere of the disused hospital is a horror movie staple but again the creep factor was missing here – leaving me wondering why the US government would be so lax as to leave a highly dangerous vampire in such an easily accessible place. Surely a maximum security prison/medical-facility/laboratory would have been a better choice…?

Fast-paced action carries 13 Bullets a long way but ultimately the characters where hard to identify with and without likeable, or understandable, characters the story quickly loses momentum. In places Caxton, the main protagonist, is on the borderline of being too-stupid-to-live. She’s a cop. Vampires are trying to kill her. They are extremely hard to kill. Why, oh why, wouldn’t you take a spare clip of ammo? For that matter why couldn’t you get a bigger gun? This isn’t what turned me off Caxton – actually it was that I found her character hard to identify with as a woman. Her character is sexless and could just have easily been a man… but then she wouldn’t have been able to be a lesbian (which appears to be a plot point in the later stages of the book.)

Arkeley, the story’s other main protagonist, is an experienced vampire hunter although with vampires being as dangerous as they are it’s more accurate to say he got lucky and didn’t die when he tangled with vampires early on in his career. His character is solely defined as a vampire hunter and while I can understand why the author has written him this way – Arkeley is after all a character whose whole life has been consumed by vampires – it makes him hard to like. Worse, it makes it nearly impossible to be bothered whether he survives this latest vampire killing trip or not.

For me, 13 Bullets suffered from not having hugely likeable heroes. This isn’t always a problem; I’ve been known to be absurdly fond of anti-heroes and interesting antagonists on occasion. However, in this story the vampires and undead human servants are bestial at best, and fundamentally abhorrent at worse – which just leaves me with nobody to root for.

On the upside, 13 Bullets is a highly action driven story and fans of fast-paced horror thrillers should find that the plotting carries them through the story well enough. David Wellington’s blood-soaked vampires are strictly old-school horror fodder which shouldn’t fail to please readers who prefer their vampires to more monstrous than sparkly.

LoveVampires Review Rating:

Review Rating: 3 stars out of 5

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