Sherry Gottlieb,
Worse Than Death
(Forge, 2000)

Sherry Gottlieb's second novel is appropriately titled Worse Than Death. Reading it is just slightly short of a fate ... well, you get the point.

The quotes on the back of the book praising it seem to refer to something that I was not fortunate enough to read. Philip Josˇ Farmer, for instance, called the novel "inventive and very amusing." I'll start there.

Worse Than Death is a modern vampire novel set in Los Angeles. The protagonists are a former LAPD detective who had to quit the force due to health problems (Huntington's chorea) and his vampire lover who works as a photographer. Just in case any of you have not read any of Tanya Huff's series of modern vampire novels set in Toronto, let me outline her basic premise. The protagonists of her novels are a former Toronto police force detective who had to quit the force due to health problems (retinitis pigmentosa) and her vampire soon-to-be lover who works as a writer. If you were wondering, Tanya Huff released the first book of her series in 1991.

I'm not necessarily implying that Gottlieb has read Huff and copied her, but the resemblance is rather striking. Even if Gottlieb came up with her characters without any influences from Huff, she does not write them nearly so well. Essentially, this storyline has been done before, and better.

Farmer also said the novel was amusing. If you find the trials and tribulations of becoming an impotent vampire amusing, then I'll grant you, you might find this novel funny. Of course, once the newly turned vampire becomes incredibly hostile, misogynistic and abusive towards his vampire girlfriend, the humour is somewhat diluted. The occasional one-liner crops up, but not nearly enough in a novel that seems to think it is partly comedic.

Much of the commentary also relates to the sexual content of the novel. The sex scenes are inserted between the scenes of the mystery plot, and are, for the most part, the type of thing that you might find in the letter column of Playboy or Penthouse. They read like a list of obscene words for body parts, and little else. There is a whole lot of nipple twisting, oral sex and even some penetration, but it is all presented in such a technical way that it is little more than an "insert tab a into slot b" type of description.

The sex is also very separate from the mystery, so that any sustained eroticism is interrupted by the non-sex scenes. The characters fantasize occasionally when they are doing other things, but it often seems more grotesque than enjoyable. (The detective's frequent handling of himself in attempt to get past his impotence grows very old very fast.)

Because I found the similarities to Huff distracting, and the sex even more so, I really wanted to find something redeeming in the mystery itself. The detective is investigating for a movie producer, who is being blackmailed over some rather creative screen tests he had actresses perform. Several interesting characters are introduced over the course of the investigation, and I found the suspense was maintained throughout most of the book. The intervention of the graphic sex and bad relationship was annoying, though, taking too much attention away from actual plot.

By the end of the story, I was not very astonished by Gottlieb's completely unpredictable "surprise ending." The mystery had the most potential of all of the storylines in this book, and if Gottlieb hadn't been so determined to write about a lot of sex it might have held up a little better.

Obviously, I think that you have better things to be doing than reading this book. If you're interested in vampire detective fiction goes, try Huff. Gottlieb's detective plot isn't worth all of the other interruptions. And if you're looking for books with lots of sexual content, try something by an author who understands that sex and sexy are not the same thing.

The next time I see Sherry Gottlieb's name on the front of a book, I may look to see if she's tried writing a straight detective story, which might be worth giving her another chance. Otherwise, I just won't subject myself to this again.

[ by Kristy Tait ]

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