Wicked Game

I was just sorting through some books in my bookcase and I picked up my copy of Wicked Game, by Jeri Smith-Ready, and was surprised to realize I'd never mentioned it in this column. It's a fun read, a romantic story that throws confidence tricksters, vampires and rock and roll together to create a compelling story.

One of the more interesting elements of vampire lore is the idea that vampires are obsessive compulsive. There's an old piece of advice that says if you're trapped by a vampire throw some poppy seeds or rice onto the floor and the vampire will have to stop whatever it's doing (like, yanno, feeding from you) and pick up every seed or grain, counting each one. (In an interesting correlation Cinderella's stepmother does something similar to her to keep her from going to the ball. She throws peas and lintels into the fireplace and tells Cinderella she can go to the ball after she sorts every last one out. Does this mean Cinderella is a vampire? That's an interesting thought and doesn't bode well for the prince does it? But I digress.) Ms. Smith-Ready takes this idea and uses it to build a world where vampires get stuck, unable to change or grow with the times, bewildered and unable to cope as the world moves on. These stagnant vampires mentally fade away as they fall further and further behind. Even a vampire that is quite young, only a decade or so undead, will have trouble in day to day "life", constantly having to fight their OCD.

Enter Ciara Griffin, a con artist who is trying hard to live the straight life. She takes an internship at a local radio station, in the marketing department, and is impressed with the djs, each of whom are experts in a particular era of music. She soon learns that the djs are authentic; that they are vampires who are specialists in the music that was popular when they were turned. They're managing to keep it together and still interact with the world by working the night shift and focusing on both the past and the present.

But this innovative lifestyle is threatened by a mega corporation that wants to buy the radio station and turn it into a soulless clone of all the other stations it owns. The vampires will be left with nothing to bring them out of themselves and they'll slowly fade away.

Ciara, who isn't in the habit of helping others, comes up with a way of helping everyone. She renames the station, calling it WVMP, the Lifeblood of Rock ’n’ Roll, and convinces the vampires to tell the public that the djs are vampires. Listeners will think it's a gimmick while the vampires will be able to stop hiding. This works spectacularly well, with the vamps coming out and performing for a live, delighted audiences. Ratings, and advertising prices soar and the WVMP employees begin to think they can save the station. But then the plan, and Ciara's life, are in endangered when some other vampires get wind of the scheme and decide to put a stop to it. (I wish I could say there's a big singing and dancing gang fight between the rival factions, a la West Side Story or that one Michael Jackson song, the title of which escapes me, but I would be lying. Le sigh.)

I neglected to mention there's a romantic entanglement between Ciara and one of the vampires, called Shane McAllister. He's a grunge rocker and she doesn't believe he's really a bloodsucker until he surprises her with a little nibble while they're smooching. Ciara has a lot to juggle; her feelings for Shane, her urges to pull another con, her desire to save the station, her fear of the rival vampires, and a burgeoning loyalty to the local vamps.

Wicked Game is a wicked fun read, with intriguing characters, a fast paced plot and sparkling dialogue. There was a little bit too much about running con games for my tastes, but I think that's because I once worked on a similar project (no vamps though, just conmen, some of whom were trying to live the straight life) and reached my saturation point on the eighth or ninth rewrite. Someone who is pretty new to the game will likely find the details of how to pull confidence tricks fascinating. And of course well written characters who are having to fight the dark side of themselves will always be interesting, no matter what they do for a living.

You can read an excerpt here. You'll also find links to music from the book and some short stories set in the same universe.

One-Paragraph Review
This week's one-paragraph review is from Andrew Ryan, who instant messaged me about a video game available for the X-Box 360 and the PC. (Andrew played it on the PC.) "For Christmas I got a copy of Bioshock, and I just beat it, and I have to say the game is amazing. The weapons are well balanced; the "plasmids" which are genetic upgrades are fun and well varied in abilities and effects. This is one of the best games I have played in a while, and I would suggest it to anyone." Do you have a one-paragraph (or smaller) review you'd like to share? Send it in to me for consideration. You can reach me at feedback@qualitytimeweekly.com.