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Blood Trail, Tanya Huff, DAW, 1992, 304 pp.
It might seem hypocritical of me to heap praise on Blood Trail after a negative review of Blood Price, the book which began Huff's series about Vicki Nelson, private investigator. However, Huff's writing is most effective when she sheds many of the expectations of a genre and follows her own inclinations. This is especially conspicuous in the case of Blood Trail because of the genre that Huff is contorting for her own ends, horror. I argued in the case of Blood Price that horror is not a genre that I can read with a clear conscience any more. Blood Trail throws all the questionable elements of horror out the window, and goes in for delightful character development, a picaresque plot, and an almost-pleasant stay in the country-side. I am shocked, looking back on the book, at how much of a page-turner it is, considering the lack of conventional suspense. As with The Last Wizard, Huff makes the book entirely her own, even though there are some of the archetypical genre elements (in this case, werewolves and a vampire).
Blood Trail opens four months after the events of Blood Price, and our heroine, Vicki Nelson, gets a phone call from her vampire friend, Henry Fitzroy, who has some friends who are in trouble. Turns out these friends are werewolves, and someone in their neighbourhood has been making silver bullets. So Vicki goes out to their sheep farm with Henry and meets the whole Heerkens family. From there, the plot rambles along, as Vicki meets other people in the area and helps out in the eventual showdown. We know right away who the villain is, and Huff keeps us updated with the villain's decisions as they happen, so there's little mystery in the plot. But the book is still a page-turner because Huff builds a kind of humorous suspense out of this situation. The menace is real, werewolves are indeed being shot at, but the treatment of each moment of tension always has a funny denouement. Like the little confrontation between Stuart, the alpha male of the werewolf family, and Mike Celluci. The youngest werewolf later asks if he can bite Mike, and when told that's not polite: "Daniel snorted. 'I never get to bite anybody,' he complained, kicked the screen door open, and stomped out into the yard" (216). Not a moment from the stereotypical horror narrative, and it works perfectly in Huff's hands.
It seems I'm already talking about character, Blood Trail's definite strong suit. The book has an absolutely priceless bit of character development, one of the best, funniest moments I've ever read. Especially in the way it advances our understanding of Vicki Nelson, the main character of this series. On one of her first days at the Heerkens' farm, a teenage boy, Peter/Storm (his human and wolf names), is giving her a tour of the fields. He deliberately eats a grasshopper in order to gross her out, and Vicki is offended by his attitude and eats one herself -- "Actually, it tastes a bit like a squishy peanut" (92). Here is her little analysis of herself just after eating the grasshopper: "Mike Celluci would maintain that she was insanely competitive. That wasn't true. She merely liked to preserve the status quo and her position at the top of the heap. And no teenage anything was getting the better of her..." (92). To me, this moment alone almost makes the whole book. And it's clear how Vicki could fit in so quickly with the Heerkens family -- she is a bit nutty herself, in an admirable way, a way that builds the story and our approval. The characters of Henry Fitzroy and Mike Celluci return from the first book in the series, and have pretty much the same function. They are Vicki's friends and they help out at the final showdown. The Heerkens family is written credibly, and their family dynamics are depicted clearly and sympathetically. Their efforts to adjust to the modern world are also portrayed nicely (one son is a police officer), and I especially liked the bit of history from WWII. The werewolf family provides a good deal of the book's pathos and humour, so kudos for that. They need to remove their clothes to change from human to wolf shape, so there's a running joke about that, and the neighbouring man who has spread the rumour in the area that they are nudists (he tells Vicki this in a hilarious scene, 124-5).
Blood Trail's storyline has a climax in the sense that all of the good and evil people come together at the end. But even the way the problem is resolved is atypical, and was definitely applauded by me. A nice examination of the intricacies of justice and conscience, and certainly not a disgusting blow-out of gore like a werewolf story could have been. In retrospect, I liked the book because I liked spending time with these people, and their dilemma hooked me as well. Blood Trail is a strange, sometimes uneven book, but it takes pleasure in its own odd corners, and the reader can definitely appreciate that as well.
Last modified: July 20, 1998
Copyright © 1998 by James Schellenberg (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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