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  • Written by Charlie Huston
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  • Already Dead
  • Written by Charlie Huston
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A Novel

Written by Charlie HustonAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Charlie Huston

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List Price: $11.99

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On Sale: December 18, 2007
Pages: 288 | ISBN: 978-0-307-41451-9
Published by : Del Rey Ballantine Group
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

Those stories you hear? The ones about things that only come out at night? Things that feed on blood, feed on us? Got news for you: they’re true. Only it’s not like the movies or old man Stoker’s storybook. It’s worse. Especially if you happen to be one of them. Just ask Joe Pitt.

There’s a shambler on the loose. Some fool who got himself infected with a flesh-eating bacteria is lurching around, trying to munch on folks’ brains. Joe hates shamblers, but he’s still the one who has to deal with them. That’s just the kind of life he has. Except afterlife might be better word.

From the Battery to the Bronx, and from river to river, Manhattan is crawling with Vampyres. Joe is one of them, and he’s not happy about it. Yeah, he gets to be stronger and faster than you, and he’s tough as nails and hard to kill. But spending his nights trying to score a pint of blood to feed the Vyrus that’s eating at him isn’t his idea of a good time. And Joe doesn’t make it any easier on himself. Going his own way, refusing to ally with the Clans that run the undead underside of Manhattan–it ain’t easy. It’s worse once he gets mixed up with the Coalition–the city’s most powerful Clan–and finds himself searching for a poor little rich girl who’s gone missing in Alphabet City.

Now the Coalition and the girl’s high-society parents are breathing down his neck, anarchist Vampyres are pushing him around, and a crazy Vampyre cult is stalking him. No time to complain, though. Got to find that girl and kill that shambler before the whip comes down . . . and before the sun comes up.

Excerpt

I smell them before I see them. All the powders, perfumes and oils the half-smart ones smear on themselves. The stupid ones just stumble around reeking. The really smart ones take a Goddamn shower. The water doesn’t help them in the long run, but the truth is, nothing is gonna help them in the long run. In the long run they’re gonna die. Hell, in the long run they’re already dead.

So this pack is half-smart. They’ve splashed themselves with Chanel No. 5, Old Spice, whatever. Most folks just think they have a heavy hand at the personal scent counter. I close my eyes and inhale deeper, because it could just be a group of bridge and tunnelers in from Jersey or Long Island. But it’s not. I take that second breath and sure enough, there it is underneath: the sweet, subtle tang of something not quite dead. Something freshly rotting. I’m betting they’re the ones I’m looking for. And why wouldn’t they be? It’s not like these things are thick on the ground. Not yet. I walk a little farther down Avenue A and stop at the sidewalk window of Nino’s, the pizza joint on the corner of St. Marks.

I rap on the counter with the ring on my middle finger and one of the Neapolitans comes over.

—Yeah?

—What’s fresh?

He looks blank.

—The pizza, what’s just out of the oven?

—Tomato and garlic.

—No way, no fucking garlic. How ’bout the broccoli, it been out all day?

He shrugs.

—Fine, give me the broccoli. Not too hot, I don’t want to burn the roof of my mouth.

He cuts a slice and slides it into the oven to warm up. I could eat the tomato and garlic if I wanted to. It’s not like the garlic would hurt me or anything. I just don’t like the shit.

While I wait I lean on the counter and watch the customers inside the joint. The usual crowd for a Friday night: couple drunk NYU kids, couple drunk greasers, a drunk squatter, two drunk yuppies on an East Village adventure, a couple drunk hip-hoppers, and the ones I’m looking for. There are three of them standing around the far corner table: an old-school goth chick, and two rail-thin guys, with impossibly high cheekbones, that have fashion junkie written all over them. The kind of guys who live in a squat but make the fashion-week scene by virtue of the skag they bring to the parties. Just my favorite brand of shitdogs all in all.

—Broccoli.

The Neapolitan is back with my slice. I hand him three bucks. The goth and the fashion junkies watch the two NYU kids stumble out the door. They push their slices around for another minute, then follow. I sprinkle red pepper flakes on my slice and take a big bite, and sure enough it’s too hot and I burn the roof of my mouth. The pizza jockey comes back and tosses my fifty cents change on the counter. I swallow, the molten cheese scorching my throat.

—I told you not too hot.

He shrugs. All the guy has to do all day is throw slices in the oven and take them out when they’re ready. Ask for one not too hot and you might as well be requesting coq au vin. I grab my change, toss the slice back on the counter and take off after the junkies and the goth chick. Fucking thing had garlic in the sauce anyway.

The NYU kids have crossed the street to cut through Tompkins Square before the cops shut it down at midnight. The trio lags behind about eight yards back, walking past the old water fountain with Faith, Hope, Temperance, Charity carved in the stone above it. The kids reach the opposite side of the park and keep heading east on Ninth Street, deeper into Alphabet City. Great.

This block of 9th between Avenues B and C is barren, as in empty of everyone except the NYU kids, their trailers and me.

The junkies and the goth pick up the pace. I stroll. They’re not going anywhere without my seeing it. What they want to do takes a bit of privacy. Better for me if they get settled someplace where they feel safe, before I move in.

They’re right on the kids now. They move into a dark patch under a busted streetlamp and spread out, one on either side of the kids and one behind. There’s a scuffle, movement and noise, and they all disappear. Fuck.

I jog up the street and take a look. On my left is an abandoned building. It used to be a Puerto Rican community center and performance space, before that it was a P.S. Now it’s just condemned.

I follow the scent up the steps and across the small courtyard to the graffiti-covered doors. They’ve been chained shut for a few years, but tonight the chain is hanging loose below the hacksawed hasp of a giant Master lock. Looks like they prepped this place in advance of their ambush. Looks like they may be a little more than half-smart.

I ease the door open and take a look. Hallway goes straight for about twelve yards then hits a T intersection. Dark. That’s OK. I don’t mind the dark. The dark is just fine. I slip in, close the door behind me and take a whiff. They’re here, smells like they’ve been hanging out for a couple days. I hear the first scream and know where to go. Up to the intersection, down the hall to the right, and straight to the open classroom door.

One of the NYU kids is facedown on the floor with the goth chick kneeling on his back. She’s already shoved her knife through the back of his neck, killing him. Now she’s trying to jam the blade into his skull so she can split it open. The junkie guys stand by, waiting for the piñata to bust.

The other kid has jammed himself in a corner in the obligatory pool of his own fear-piss. His eyes are rolling around and he’s making the high-pitched noise that people make when they’re so scared they might die from it. I hate that noise.

I hear something crunchy.

The chick has the knife in. She gives it a wrenching twist and the dead kid’s skull cracks open. She claws her fingers into the crack, gets a good grip and pulls, tearing the kid’s head open like a piece of rotted fruit. A pomegranate. The junkies edge closer as she starts scooping out clumps of brain. Too late for that kid, so I wait a couple seconds more, watching them as they start to eat, and listening to the other kid’s moaning go up another octave. Then I do my job.

It takes me three silent steps to reach the first one. My right arm loops over his right shoulder. I grab his face with my right hand while my left hand grips the back of his head. I jerk sharply clockwise, pulling up at the same time. I feel his spinal cord tear and drop him, grabbing the second one’s hair before the first one hits the ground. The chick is getting up off the kid’s corpse, coming at me with the knife. I punch the second junkie in the throat and let him drop. It won’t kill him, but he’ll stay down for a second. The chick whips the knife in a high arc and the tip rakes my forehead. Blood oozes from the cut and into my eyes.

Whatever she was before she got bit, she knew a little about using a knife, and still remembers some of it. She’s hanging back, waiting for her pal to get up so they can take me together. I measure the blank glaze in her eyes. Yeah, there’s still a little of her at home. Enough to order pizza and pick out these kids as marks, enough to cut through a lock, but not enough to be dangerous. As long as I’m not stupid. I step in and she thrusts at me with the knife. I grab the blade.

She looks from me to the knife. I’m holding it tightly, blood spilling out between my clenched fingers. The dim light in her eyes gets minutely brighter as something gives her the word: she’s fucked. I twist the knife out of her hand, toss it in the air and catch it by the handle. She turns to run. I grab the back of her leather jacket, step close and jam the knife into her neck at the base of her skull, chopping her medulla in half. I leave the knife there and let her drop to the floor. The second junkie is just getting back up. I kick him down, put my boot on his throat and stomp, twisting my foot back and forth until I hear his neck snap.

I kneel and wipe my hand on his shirt. My blood has already coagulated and the cuts in my hand have stopped bleeding, likewise the cut in my forehead. I check the bodies. One of the guys is missing a couple teeth and has some lacerations on his gums. Looks like he’s been chewing someone’s skull. Probably it belonged to the clown I took care of a couple days ago, the one with the hole in his head who tipped me off to this whole thing. Anyway, his teeth aren’t what I’m interested in.

Both guys have small bites on the backs of their necks. The bite radius and size of the tooth marks make me take a look at the girl’s mouth. Looks like a match. Figure she bit these two and infected them with the bacteria. Happens that way sometimes. Generally a person gets infected, the bacteria starts chewing on their brain and pretty soon they’re reduced to the simple impulse to feed. But sometimes, before they reach that point, they infect a few others. They take a bite, but don’t eat the whole meal if you get me. No one really knows why. Some sob sisters would tell you it’s because they’re lonely. But that’s bullshit. It’s the bacteria compelling them, spreading itself. It’s fucking Darwin doing his thing.

I check the girl’s neck. She infected the others, but something infected her first. The bite’s been marred by the knife I stuck in her, but it’s there. It’s bigger than the others, more violent. In fact, there are little nips all over her neck. Fucking carrier that got her couldn’t decide if it wanted to just infect her or eat her. Whatever, all the same to me. Except it means the job isn’t done yet. Means there’s a carrier still out there. I start to stand up. But something else; a smell on her. I kneel next to her and take a whiff. Something moves behind me.

The other NYU kid. Right, forgot about him. He’s trying to dig his way through the wall. I walk over to him. I’m just about to pop him in the jaw when he does the job for me and passes out. I look him over. No bites. Now normally I wouldn’t do this, but I lost a little blood and I never got to eat my pizza, so I’m pretty hungry. I take out my works and hook the kid up. I’ll only take a pint. Maybe two.

The phone wakes me in the morning. Why the hell someone is calling me in the morning I don’t know, so I let the machine get it.

—This is Joe Pitt. Leave a message.

—Joe, it’s Philip.

I don’t pick up the phone, not for Philip Sax. I close my eyes and try to find my way back to sleep.

—Joe, I think maybe I got something if ya can pick up the phone.

I roll over in bed and pull the covers up to my chin. I try to remember what I was dreaming about so I can get myself back there.

—I don’t wanna bug ya, Joe, but I figure ya gotta be in. It’s ten in the morning, where ya gonna be?

Sleep crawls off into a corner where I can’t find it and I pick up the damn phone.
Charlie Huston|Author Q&A

About Charlie Huston

Charlie Huston - Already Dead

Photo © Virginia Louise Smith

Charlie Huston is the author of the bestsellers The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death and The Shotgun Rule, as well as the Henry Thompson trilogy, the Joe Pitt casebooks, and several titles for Marvel Comics. He lives with his family in Los Angeles.

Author Q&A

A Conversation with Charlie Huston, author of Already Dead


Q: What sets the vampires of Already Dead apart from those familiar to readers of Stoker, Rice, and Hamilton, as well as to fans of Buffy and Angel? What new angles are you bringing to vamp noir?

Charlie Huston:Well, I don’t know how many knew angles you can find in a vampire story. Truth is, that's a well-mined vein. No pun intended. The aspect I find most entertaining is blending vampire mythology into a noir world. I love the idea of a gothic creature of the night existing in a contemporary setting with a noir sensibility.

Q: You've published two mainstream mysteries, Caught Stealing and Six Bad Things, the first of which has been optioned for a film. What made you branch out into horror–assuming you consider Already Dead to be horror?

CH:I tend to think of Already Dead as a noir story with horror trappings, but honestly, it’s a pretty fine line. Once you got vamps and zombies, it’s hard to argue the book’s not horror. Either distinction is fine by me. As to how I ended up writing this book after starting with straight-up crime, just kind of happened to me. I had a few lines and a few scenes that kept picking at me until I went to work. I expected to end up with a short story maybe. Instead I got a novel and the framework for an entire series. Lucky me.

Q: Some writers never wanted to do anything else but write, while others seem to have stumbled into it almost by accident. What was your path to becoming a writer?

CH:I was a bit of a stumbler. I’ve always done a bit of writing for my own entertainment, even started college as a creative writing major (miserable failure). But for most of my adult life I was studying theater and acting. I wrote my first novel more to occupy myself with something creative than to find a publisher. It was only through a random series of events and blind luck that I ended up doing this full time. This is me knocking wood.

Q: Who are some of your biggest influences as a writer?

CH:Over the last couple years, as I’ve worked on several novels now, I’ve started to see signs of many writers. Off the top of my head, Charles Bukowski, James Elroy, Cormac McCarthy, have all put a stamp on my Henry Thompson books. With Already Dead I’m pretty consciously going for a Chandler thing.

Q: How long have you lived in New York, and what brought you here?

CH:I’ve been here just about eleven years. Came here both because I was following a girl and because I wanted to act. The girls gone, and so’s the acting. Go figure.

Q: Do you find the city a good place to write? What's your typical writer's day like?

CH:In the sense that it’s an outstanding source of material, there are probably few places as good to write as NYC. Character, dialogue, settings; it’s all out there on the street. Keep your ears and eyes open and you can fill a notebook with ideas every day. In terms of needing a quiet place to write, it’s one of the worst. I say that never really having had a truly quiet place to write. If I ever do, I’ll probably freeze up.

I start my day fairly early. Get some exercise because I’ll have my ass glued to a chair for the bulk of the day, and then get to it. My process is really just about staying in my room and limiting distractions. Given little else to do, I’ll write. Sad. Just plain sad the things we do to motivate ourselves.

Q: Already Dead is set in Manhattan, and much of the action takes place on the Lower East Side and Alphabet City. That's close to where I live, so I know how accurate your depiction is, and not only geographically–you get the people right, too.

CH:Thanks, man. I lived in the East Village for many years and it seemed a pretty natural setting for this kind of thing. I really loved that neighborhood when I was there, and I don’t think I’ll ever get it out of my system no matter how many Starbucks they put up.

Q: What would you like potential readers of Already Dead to know?

CH:Forewarned is forearmed: this isn’t romaticy-bursting-bodicey vampire stuff. It’s vulgar and violent and there’s graphic brain eating in the first ten pages.

Q: Tell us about Joe Pitt, your vampire hero, and the city he calls home.

CH:Joe Pitt is a pretty classic noir anti-hero. He’s tough and cynical, which usually means there’s a shattered idealist inside, and he’s self-reliant and violent. Emphasis on the violent in Joe’s case. He’s a native New Yorker, and he has to drink blood to stay alive. That’s the basics.

Q: In your world, vampirism and "zombification" seem to have scientific rather than supernatural causes–the former a virus known as the Vyrus, the latter a bacterial infection. Yet there also seems to be a supernatural aspect to the Vyrus–at least, that's what the vampyre clan known as the Enclave believes. Can you talk a little bit about the science and the supernatural in this series?

CH:Well, the science is really more “science.” I’ve done just enough research for there to be a level of verisimilitude within Joe’s world, but I’d hate for anyone with a medical degree to pick over this stuff.

There are actually several Clans in Already Dead, and it will become apparent through the series that they all have very different ideas about what the Vyrus is. In fact, while each book will have its own self-contained mystery, the 5-6 book series will have a larger story arc about what the Vyrus really is.

Q: Will we see werewolves or other horror monsters in future books?

CH:For the time being I’m going to focus on the Joe Pitt books. That’s gonna take up all of my horror juice for the next few years. After that I’ll be taking a look around. I grew up reading a ton of science fiction and would love to do something over there.

Q: At one point in the novel, a character tells Pitt that the lifespan, so to speak, of a vampire is about thirty years. Why are older vamps relatively rare?

CH:One of the concepts I started with for this world was that vampires are essentially very vulnerable. I mean, hell, the SUN kills them and they have to drink human blood to survive. So basically, you have these people that have to get away with multiple homicide on a regular basis, and they have to never go in the frigging sun. It struck me early on that it would be a pretty suck life and one that most people wouldn’t hack for very long in the modern world.

Q: I understand you're doing a mini-series for Marvel Comics. Tell us about that.

CH:I’m doing a six-issue Moon Knight mini-series. MK was created in the late seventies by Doug Moench and had his own series in the ‘80s and again in the ‘90s. He’s been pretty much on the shelf for the last several years and Marvel was looking for someone to bring him back. I was lucky enough to get the job. It’s actually a character I loved when I was a kid, and it’s kind of an honor, in a profoundly geeky way, to get to do this. I’ve also been extremely luck in being teamed up with one of the industry’s top artists: David Finch. Issue #1 in March 2006.

Q: How does writing a comic book compare to writing fiction?

CH:Pictures. That’s the big difference, pictures. Comic books are still story driven, but they are primarily a visual medium. Characters can’t sit around talking. Well, they can, but only if they look really cool doing it or if they’re really hot women. No joke, thems the rules. So learning to let the images carry as much of the story as possible, the biggest difference, the biggest challenge and also the most fun.

Q: I mentioned before that Caught Stealing has been optioned for a film–is that going happen? Would you want to write the screenplay?

CH:The option is held by Crossroads Films. They’ve been working on getting the movie made for several years now and already have a screenplay. In fact, they have a director and some cast as well. From what I understand, the next few months will determine if they are able to get the movie made.

Q: Any movie prospects for Already Dead?

CH:Could be, but I’d have to kill you if I told you. Have to kill aaaaallll of you.

Q: Easy, big fella! What other projects do you have in the works?

CH:I’ve finished the last book in my Henry Thompson trilogy, A Dangerous Man. That will be out next fall. I’m looking at doing some more work for Marvel. And currently I’m writing a stand-alone mystery for Ballantine. It’s about a gang of teenage housebreakers in a suburb in the early eighties. They break into the wrong house and see the wrong thing and get into a shitload of trouble. Chaos ensues.

I’ve also got a website, www.pulpnoir.com, that I update every week with journal entries and some short fiction. I’ll be putting some supplemental Joe Pitt material there over the next couple months.

Q: What's next for Joe Pitt?

CH:Book two, No Dominion, is in the very last editing stages and will come out winter of 2006. It’ll be more of the same. A vulgar, violent, bloody, cool, punk-rock vampire tale à la Chandler.

Praise

Praise

Praise for Charlie Huston

“Rocks and rolls from the first page. This is one mean, cold, slit-eyed mother of a book, and Charlie Huston is the real deal.”
–Peter Straub, on Six Bad Things

“[A] wrong-man plot worthy of Hitchcock.”
–Entertainment Weekly (Editor’s Choice), on Caught Stealing

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