MaryJanice Davidson,
Undead & Unwed
(Berkley, 2004)

Elizabeth Taylor is having a very bad day.

Betsy (to avoid confusion with the actress) loses her job, has to cancel her birthday party, gets hit by a car and dies. She wakes up in a funeral home, all stuffed and buffed for a viewing. But Betsy isn't quite ready to part with her collection of designer shoes just yet.

Oddly, Betsy is a vampire -- and yet to her knowledge she has never been attacked by one. Perhaps her unusual transformation explains her ability to control her thirst, handle religious icons and spend some quality time in the sun.

Of course, there are matters of vampire loyalties and politics to deal with. More pressing, Betsy has a lot of explaining to do to her family and friends. And, she wonders, is the world ready for a vampire superhero yet, or is that just silly talk?

It is certainly reasonable to assume that an ordinary person, if suddenly turned into a plasma-quaffing creature of the night, could choose to continue life as mundanely as possible. Capes and coffins may well seem less important than more daily matters, such as feeding the cat, keeping up with house payments and finding a little romance.

Undead & Unwed is much in the same vein as Charlaine Harris's Sookie Stackhouse series and Christopher Moore's excellent novel, Bloodsucking Fiends. And it, like the others, is a refreshing change from the usual dark and gritty vampire yarn; while there are some vampires here who could have stepped from the pages of Stoker or Rice, Betsy mostly dismisses them as posturing and silly, and scoffs at their belief that certain appearances must be maintained by the elite undead. Betsy, free-spirited even in death, doesn't want to declare fealty to a master, join a clan or parade around in black clothing and boring shoes.

For the most part, Undead & Unwed is a light, fun vampire novel that dispenses with the usual vampire trappings. There are annoyances -- Betsy talks way too much, she's often a bit too flippant in dire situations, her shallow fixation on shoes is carried a bit too far and, quite frankly, I think she spends a little too much time in this book with the "firm length" of various gentlemen pressed against her belly -- I don't care how erotic the vampire experience is supposed to be. Some of the more gratuitous passages were more embarrassing than titillating.

It would be easy to overlook this book on the shelf, which is pigeon-holed by some under romantic fiction. Others dismiss it as "chick lit," which is selling it short. Undead & Unwed is a modern vampire novel, plain and simple, that refuses to take itself seriously. If you enjoy vampire tales that fall to the left of center, give this a try. (If you like it, there are more in the series.)

by Tom Knapp
15 April 2006

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