St. Martin’s Press
Hardcover, 240 pages, $24.99
Review by Sheila Merritt
Horror is often innately controversial; this is a given. In his novel Vampire Maker, Michael Schiefelbein pushes a lot of buttons. The pious may very well find his depiction of Jesus, here called Joshu, offensive. Oh lord, was He the former lover of a centuries old vampire? Then there is the gay issue combined with Catholicism to contend with: Is a priest, who embraces his calling as a result of being thankful for testing HIV negative, a positive image/role model for homosexuals? The book is ostensibly about vampires, sex, love, relationships, and religion. Horror also plays a part, but mostly the book is about adaptation; learning to deal with expectations, realities, and power. The author has sunk his teeth into too many ideas; blurring the focus of the narrative by dwelling on faith frustrations and libido lamentations more than plot.
Set in New Orleans shortly after Hurricane Katrina, the story emphasizes rebuilding; not only of edifices/structures, but of emotions tested and totaled by the disaster. Charles, the priest, views his sexual orientation as sinful. He thinks that through his required celibacy, he is conquering a moral deviancy. When, however, a haunted hunky church parishioner comes to take communion, doubts ensue. Fatal attraction goes beyond the grave: In a love triangle, the priest, a vampire, and his “thrall,” have moral musings and kinky couplings. While each of these three principal characters is well delineated, it is difficult to resist the impulse to metaphorically throttle the mercurial Charles; his feelings seem to turn on a dime. He wants to have his beefcake and eat it too.
The tale has several excellent passages, such as: “Cities of the dead, they call the New Orleans cemeteries, and with good reason. The mausoleums rise like miniature mansions, some twelve or fifteen feet high, some with Greek columns and pediments, some enclosed by wrought-iron fences, some covered with English ivy.” There are also astute observations, as when Charles reacts after finding his true love has been transformed into a vampire: “He had the strange feeling a person has when meeting an old, passionate lover many years later, groping to relate outside the familiar patterns of intimacy and at the same time resisting the effort.”
Despite such images, which posses a fine familiarity with place and character, Vampire Maker may be forcing its fangs into thin skin. Its torments stem from theological trepidation, rather than supernatural suspense. Vampire Maker has the potential to alienate certain readers of horror. Its religious ramifications might possibly rankle the reverent, and Charles’ waffling about suppressing his sexual identity could certainly dismay or irritate others. For the majority of horror fans, though, the let down probably won’t be because of any personal offense. It is simply that Michael Schiefelbein, in this particular installment of an ongoing series, doesn’t create a singularly scary story. It is a provocative work, in many senses of the word; but it lacks the chill factor.