Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Review: Lady Crymsyn (Vampire Files #9)

“…Jack may have become a creature of the night, but he’s still a man with a strong sense of justice. And he won’t rest until he finds out who killed the lady in red—even if it means resurrecting secrets the mob would kill to keep buried…”

Lady Crymsyn, the ninth book in the Vampire Files series, has Jack Fleming, vampire detective, opening up his new club. It is June 1937, post-prohibition Chicago. Two months have passed (for fans who have read the previous novel, The Dark Sleep) since his troubling encounter with some enemies who tried to murder his best friend, Charles Escott, English-born private detective. Life is just not easy in the city of gangs. Jack already knows this fact since he’s already dead.

The name of the upcoming club is Lady Crymsyn. Previously just an idea, now it’s under construction. The place will definitely be the one of the city's hot spots, as Jack endlessly describes the details and legal taxation procedures with Uncle Sam (the IRS). The building, once a speakeasy (a place for the illegal sale and consumption of alcoholic drinks during the Prohibition era in the United States), rumors have it the place is haunted from its previous owner, Welsh Lennet, who died a tragic fate. But that’s not what’s bothering Jack and Charles. As the crewmen for the club work in the basement, they uncover a dead body—a lady in red tied together suffering a horrible death alive—behind a conserved brick wall. Soon, the police and newspaper reporters rush to the scene. Jack does not like this situation at all.

Lieutenant Blair, of the Chicago Police (who hasn’t been a main character since the Fire in the Blood) appears at the scene and really despises Jack. Before things get too rough to handle, Fleming makes sure to hear the updates on the dead woman and tells the police lieutenant to leave. Jack asks Gordy at the Nightcrawler Club if he knows anything about the corpse. Gordy is the man who seems to know everything about the city. Feeling extremely weak, Jack drives to the Union Stockyards for a fresh meal (blood) before he has to pick-up his lovely and talented girlfriend, Rpberta "Bobbi" Smythe. Like Fleming, she is not a Chicago native but a Midwesterner trying to pursue larger dreams as a stage actress in New York or Hollywood. Jack Fleming wants her to be happy (although he has asked her for marriage several times!).

With Bobbi's help, Jack discovers the identity of the dead skeletal woman. Joe James, a fashion designer for women’s clothing, identifies the woman as Lena Ashley, the hip, daring but not-so-smart gal who explored the wild side of life in Chicago. All evidence until now points to Booth Nevis, who owns the property of Fleming’s club and archenemy of the late Welsh Lennet. Jack meets Rita Robillard, Lena’s best friend, at the Flying Ace, Nevis’s club in the Loop. She is shocked to learn that her best friend was the dead girl walled up in Lady Crymsyn. While he tried to gain any other useful information about Lena, she immediately leaves him for protection around Shivvey Coker and Tony Upshaw, Nevis’s righthand men, telling them what Fleming said to her. As he is about to leave, the bartender, Malone, and some other goons engage in a brawl. Fleming quickly rescues and carries him back to his home. Why was he suddenly the object of brutal attacks? What kind of past does Malone have?

As Jack ventures from club to club with new faces and new trouble, he realizes that his time is running short. Will he ever seek vengeance for poor Lena Ashley? The club's grand opening deadline is tightly near and things still need some polishing to do. Jack never asked for this, but as a man of honesty, he wants justice.

Lady Crymsyn has an unusual storyline. Leon Kell, Jack’s daytime manager for the club (Fleming is a vampire, so he needs someone whom he can trust to run things while he’s sleeping during the day), tells them the bad news about the skeletal female body. Fleming just stumbled across an investigation he never expected but was willing to resolve the matter quickly before his club’s grand opening. He exquisitely describes the interior of the club that will just marvel any reader. How did Jack come up with this money and designs? Just pure luck from a previous novel, )A Chill in the Bood) and a lucky friendship with Gordy Weems, a main character in the Vampire Files series. This book also discusses more about Al Capone, who in this era would still be alive, which I found intriguing.

Elrod interestingly explains the importance of the Union Stockyards in the Chicago Southside. While I have always known this was the feeding place for Jack, I never realized that it was also a national depot center. You learn many historical facts in all of her books, although I don’t quite understand why she waited until the ninth book to explain the significance of this place. She always refers back to previous novels describing other characters and events, like Slick Morelli (Bobbi’s dead ex-boyfriend in Bloodlist), the Long Island mystery (Bloodcircle) and Alex Adrian (Art in the Blood).

Jack and Bobbi touch on a subject that both trouble them for a good chapter. The first novel of the series, Bloodlist, recollects in their minds, as he does not want to think about how he died and turned into a vampire. The idea of Bobbi turning into a vampire also scares her as she always questions Jack if the transformation is painful. This book has many flashbacks to events and characters in previous books of the Vampire File series. Elrod is big on this to keep a continuous narrative and please longtime fans with deeper character development and reference. Jack even admits to the readers that he will rather be a vampire than be a mortal human again. Given his supernatural abilities and charismatic charm on women (and strong hypnosis on men), why give up such qualities to be another average Joe?

Elrod also adds more supernatural themes, such as ghosts, that terribly irks Jack. However, I felt that this book dragged endlessly between chapters. As I learned more about the characters, the suspense proved even greater as this murderer has not been found yet! The climax is quite bloody, and Jack’s rage can be taken as hilarious or downright scary. This book took me a while to finish, but in the end I was very pleased. While Charles Escott is not a very important character in this novel, Escott fans will be pleased to hear about new lady luck. (He is a lady’s man??!) This is one of Elrod’s BEST works since A Chill in the Blood. If you haven’t read that book, I suggest you do so right now!

Stay tuned for the tenth novel in the Vampire File Series, Cold Streets.

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