"It Drinks Blood" Book Review
Written by Steve Pattee
Published by Delirium Books
Written by J.F. Gonzalez
2011, 170 pages, Fiction
Novella released on March 23rd, 2011
J.F. Gonzalez is one of the few authors that I can instantly recall not just the first book I read from him, but the impact it had on me. Years ago I had gone to a book signing and picked up Gonzalez's anthology, Maternal Instinct, and the title story blew me away. Brutal and uncompromising, it affected me so much that I thought about it for weeks. Later, he would turn that story into a full blown book, Survivor, which was just as powerful, if not more so.
Over the years, I've read a good chunk of his novels, ranging from killer crabs in Clickers (co-written with Mark Williams) and its sequel Clickers II: The Next Wave (co-written with Brian Keene) to hardened mysteries in Fetish and Bully. His variety of work shows he can quickly jump genres and still be incredibly entertaining. Even so, from what I've read of his work, Gonzalez excels at the horrors of men, and his latest novella, It Drinks Blood, is no exception.
The majority of It Drinks Blood is set during the Great Depression, centering on pulp author Robert Brennan and his relationship with Allison, an abused girl who lives next door to Robert and his wife. Tormented by her mother and her mother's boyfriend, Robert does what he can to make her life more livable.
Adding to this drama that has been introduced to his life, there is a slew of unsolved killings going on that are very similar to murders that happened just before Robert moved to town. Allison has her own susicions about the perpetrator of these crimes, and she and Robert find a common bond in watching this mysterious person.
Wisely, as destructive as the serial killer is (the bodies are found beheaded and drained of blood), J.F. Gonzalez does not focus too much on the murderer or his actions, but rather the relationship between Robert and Allison. This strengthens the story because instead of horrifying you with an unknown killer, Gonzalez terrifies you with something more tangible, the unending abuse of a young girl. The period the book takes place in, the 1930s, plays a pivotal role, as it is a time where police didn't get too involved in domestic violence. This adds to the frustration of Allison's situation, in both Robert's character and the reader. You both desperately want someone to step in and do something, but no one does.
Gonzalez does a tremendous job here, pulling you into the story from the first page and not letting up until the end. You really feel for these characters, and you feel helpless in reading what happens to Allison, because your hands are tied as much as Robert's. Gonzalez's biggest strength, something that really shines here, is that he's not a writer, but rather a storyteller. He has this folksy way of spinning a yarn, not unlike Stephen King. Where the selling point of the novella is the serial killer, the real story is the two main characters, so much so that the butcher almost takes a back seat. Almost.
Gonzelez's biggest strength makes It Drinks Blood's novella format the book's biggest weakness. 170 pages are just not enough to delve into the slaughtering that's going on. As good as the characters are developed, there is still that guy that was introduced running around lopping off heads. Since he is the centerpiece of the story, he cannot be completely ignored. To make matters worse, Gonzalez dropped a fantastic little twist on who the subject of Allison and Robert's investigation really is. After that bombshell is released, the last chapter becomes nothing but exposition that would not be necessary if this was a full blown novel. It makes it all very bittersweet.
However, even with that, It Drinks Blood is one hell of a read and a very nice addition to J.F. Gonzalez's catalogue. The majority of the novella's 170 pages are incredibly well written and if you have never read something by Gonzalez, this is a suitable introduction for just a taste of what he's capable of.
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