Genre: Contemporary Weird West
The Devil’s Mouth, the first book in the Alex Rains Vampire Hunter series, is already a major contender in the Contemporary Weird West/horror genre.
Based primarily in the deserts and dusty towns of the Arizona and New Mexico desert, The Devil’s Mouth introduces Alex Rains, a skilled, ruthless—and surprisingly vulnerable—rockabilly vampire hunter.
Matt Kincade’s breakout novel doesn’t just kick butt in the action scenes—all writers in this genre had better know their way around describing exciting murder and mayhem—the story goes DEEP and BROAD in creating a believable world where society’s outcasts and outlaws have formed a community to defend the world from equally established criminal organizations of fanged, undead predators.
Against his better judgment, Alex breaks reconnaissance cover on a mid-level vampire to save Carmen, a young woman who’s gotten in over her head searching for a missing sister.
As Carmen recuperates from near undeath, the good old boy Alex, who treats women with respect and “aw shucks” humor, takes down vampires and their human collaborators without mercy or remorse. Soon Carmen is recruited into the motley vampire hunter club, and together they work their way up the food chain of blood-guzzling thugs, middle managers and bosses to the big daddy vampire of the region, Don Carlos, a former Conquistador and keeper of the “old ways.”
The Devil’s Mouth has several qualities that raise it a cut above most genre writing. The second act, which can sag in the hands of less capable writers, goes deeper into the characters of Alex, Carmen, Jen (a freelance nurse who patches Alex and Carmen up after their near-death extermination sprees), and even a couple of the vampire henchmen. There are several twists that come as a complete shock and surprise, in part because Alex and Carmen’s character arcs are so well developed. Then their fortunes become drastically more complicated.
Carmen’s personality and motivation are so compelling, and so much of the novel is from her point of view, I forgot that Alex is the true protagonist of the series. It’s as much her story as his.
The culture of both the vampire and the vampire hunter worlds is fully developed, unfolding gradually, logically, yet unpredictably. Human trafficking and the exploitation of illegal immigrants from Mexico take on even more horrific proportions.
Best of all, Kincade has put real thought into the “rules” of vampirism for his world, including the hierarchy of leadership and the checks and balances required to maintain a secret, disposable “food” supply. Kincade’s vampires are smart, fast, strong, hyper-sensitive, and driven by a powerful thirst for blood, but there’s no shape-shifting or sparkling. They do, however, have an incendiary allergic reaction to sunlight.
Kincade even shows WHY hunters insist on shooting bullets at vampires, knowing that it’s essentially futile. Alex blows out their knees and elbows, slowing the vampires down so he can decapitate them before the crippling wounds can heal.
The desert setting, including a barren landscape, an underground bunker from the Cold War, rundown themed motels along Route 66, and even a scene in Albuquerque’s underbelly, add to the book’s “otherness.” A funeral scene where the hunters gather to say goodbye to one of their own is particularly moving. Kincade’s battleground is vast, hostile, and unforgiving, and almost exotic compared to most urban fantasy/paranormal horror.
Ultimately, the success of the Alex Rains Vampire Hunter series is going to depend on readers’ ability to identify with the lead. Kincade has created a compelling, interesting, complicated hero for the series, but it’s his attention to detail in the other areas that had me wanting to come back for more.
The Devil’s Mouth gave me an insatiable thirst for the next installment in the Alex Rains Vampire Hunter series.
Visit Matt Kincade’s blog at www.matthewkincade.wordpress.com.
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