The Kensei: A Lawson Vampire Novel
Jon F. Merz

St. Martin’s Griffin
Trade Paper, 304 pages, $14.99
Review by Sheila M. Merritt

“Standing for good isn’t easy. It sucks most times. Even the people you’re supposed to protect will yell at you and tell you to not to put up a fight at all. They’ll accuse you of upsetting the natural balance because conflict is something we’re supposed to be evolving beyond.” Such is the dilemma of Lawson; the protagonist of Jon F. Merz’s The Kensei: A Lawson Vampire Novel.

Set in Japan, the book is an action thriller with supernatural overtones. The lead character, a Caucasian vampire, has more in common with Jason Bourne than Count Dracula. Think of him as a Dirty Harry with bite. Very little bite, since blood drinking is secondary to martial arts. The vampiric elements are almost incidental in the work; rendering it anemic as horror fiction.

Lawson is a heroic vampire. He falls into the category of the good guy with background issues. Possessing the requisite attributes for the role of paladin: A skilled fighter; cool in the face of adversity; able to shoot off rapid ripostes; he is the consummate cliché. Aided in his endeavors by a gorgeous (of course) and highly capable (of course) former KGB agent, who (of course) completes him, the duo battles the Asian evildoers. The villains are also rather stereotypic: Albinos seem to be patently evil in pop culture. The pallor-challenged in this case is a bleached out leech who traffics in human organs. Known as the Kensei or, “Sword Saint,” the bloodsucker isn’t in it merely for the money. His goal is elaborate: To create a private army of human-vampire hybrid assassins. Not a bad idea, seeing how well Lawson and his human girlfriend work together; the Kensei simply seeks to make the perfect blend of killing machine.

The narrative is dominated by brisk baiting banter. The abundance of sardonic quips gives the story a movie vibe. Succinct phrasing also contributes to the sense of the cinematic: “Japan at night. It could be beautiful or it could make you feel like more of an outsider than you’d ever felt before.” There is an apparent screenplay tone to the novel.

Jon F. Merz’s The Kensei emphasizes action/adventure. It is an animated read, concerned with thrills instead of chills. Despite it being “A Lawson Vampire Novel,” the second in a series, the nosferatu aspect is neutralized. Horror fans may find it difficult to sink their teeth into the tale.

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