Every Last Drop
272 pp. Del Rey. $14.00
Reviewed by Paul Stotts
"The man breeds lies. He spawns them asexually, with no need for any assistance. He exhales, and lies fill the air. Alone in a room, he mutters lies to himself to keep from falling into the trap of truth-telling. In the day, sleeping in his bed, deep in the safest heart of Coalition headquarters, he dreams in lies. The better to keep his left hand from knowing what betrayals his right has planned." – Joe Pitt, Every Last Drop
Sometimes the truth hidden underneath is even more dangerous than the lies we use to obscure it. And sometimes secrets are better off being left unrevealed. In “Every Last Drop”, the latest novel in the Joe Pitt Casebooks by writer extraordinaire Charlie Huston, we see just how dangerous some truths can be, and how being ignorant can occasionally be the safer course of action. This is because certain truths can fundamentally change you, transforming you, in essence, into a completely different person, as if your selfhood has been reimagined. To play on a cliché, truth doesn’t just set you free, it kills you. Then it brings you back utterly alien from your former self. It is reverse reincarnation: the body persists, but becomes inhabited by a different soul.
Interestingly, this is not unlike the transformative effects that the Vyrus has on those who are infected with it. Contracting the Vyrus is the moment of truth as it completely changes the person in both body and soul. One who has contracted the Vyrus has no choice but to leave their old life behind, which includes their family and friends. Family and friends know you and maintain a certain perception about you. But what happens when you can never go out in the sun again, or you must feed on blood? What explanations can you give to them? How can you live under the constraints of a life that is no longer your own? The answer is: you can’t. Your only choice is to walk away and start a new life. To go from being Simon to being Joe Pitt.
This concept of truth being potentially transformative to one’s idea of self is a major theme in “Every Last Drop”. Nowhere is this more evident than in a crucial event near the end of the novel. As Joe prepares to unravel one of the Coalition’s deepest mysteries, one of the characters remarks: “I will not see you again. You will not come back. If someone comes back, it will not be you.” This raises one of the most interesting aspects of Huston’s work: how are we to understand Joe Pitt. It would be incredibly simplistic to pigeonhole Joe as a “good” vampire; this is, in fact, terribly misguided. It is impossible to judge Joe in terms of our basic concept of morality as either good or evil. His actions may be categorized in this light, but what Joe really is, is honest to himself even if that requires him taking a course of action that is difficult and ugly, or even seemingly self-destructive. Honesty as being potentially self-destructive goes back to the idea of truths being transformative. What Joe ultimately symbolizes is a person willing to sacrifice himself and others for truth, willing to explore the ugliness that is sometimes hidden in the shadows of what we consider as “doing good”. This is, in essence, the argument of whether to kill a few people in order to save many. It is a fascinating idea which Huston has deftly explored during the course of the series, particularly within the context of Joe and Evie’s relationship.
After the earthshaking events of the last book, “Half the Blood of Brooklyn”, Joe Pitt finds himself as a rogue, unaffiliated with the Clans, living in the shadow of Yankee Stadium in the
Despite their past history, Predo explains his problem to Joe, a situation he believes Joe would be most helpful in solving. Amanda Horde, the extremely wealthy head of a cutting-edge biotech corporation, has started a new clan called Cure. While Amanda is aware of vampires, she is not one herself. Still, she wishes to discover a cure for the Vyrus. Horde quickly gathers a large group of vampires sympathetic to her cause. But it isn’t the large army that Amanda is massing that worries Predo, rather he fears Amanda will publicize the existence of vampires to the mainstream press. Predo, who wishes to exploit the close relationship Joe has with Amanda whose life he previously saved, forces Joe to join Cure and act as his spy.
Immediately upon returning to
Huston shows a masterful ability to craft stories that ooze realism. Not only is his main character brutally honest, his novels are too. There is an immediacy and elegance to his prose that resonates with the reader. Words are not wasted. Sentences are short, simple, and on point. Convolution of plot and contrived moments don’t exist in his books. If Charles Bukowski had written in the urban fantasy genre, he would have been Charlie Huston.
In a sense, lumping Huston into urban fantasy is ludicrous, as he occupies a level in the genre all to himself. While the entire urban fantasy genre borrows greatly from noir literature, Huston is the only one that I’ve read who gets it right. Unlike other novels in the genre, “Every Last Drop” is first and foremost an amazing mystery-noir novel. It is secondly a novel about vampires. It’s a book that can only come from a writer who understands and, even more importantly, loves noir fiction.
If noir is gritty and hard-edged, “Every Last Drop” would be bundle of raw, exposed nerve endings. It’s as visceral and violent as a deafening shotgun blast, filled with a rat-a-tat dialogue seemingly fired straight out of a machine-gun. Huston is a great stylist of dialogue that is sparse and blunt, creating conversations that flow seamlessly and have that “cool” factor most writers can only dream about. It’s dialogue that doesn’t shirk away from being honest and ugly, even at the same time. Like the other novels in the series, “Every Last Drop” is extremely fast-paced and engrossing; an afternoon read that will never give you a dull moment.
Since this is the fourth book in a five book series, “Every Last Drop” doesn’t really work as an entry point into the series. A reader who starts here will likely miss most of the nuances in the story, which will undoubtedly lessen the emotional impact of the book. My suggestion would be to start with the first Joe Pitt novel, “Already Dead”, so you can savor the build up. I doubt you’ll be disappointed. Now for fans of the previous books in the series, “Every Last Drop” will not only satisfy your expectations, it may take them to a whole different level. Be warned though, after the events in this novel it may be hard to wait a year for what is shaping up to be a stunning conclusion.
By this point in the series, it’s obvious that Charlie Huston is really doing something special here. Huston, once again, has written a novel that should define the urban fantasy genre in years to come. Filled with an intelligence and literary style all its own, “Every Last Drop” is one of the best books of 2008.
Final Grade: 90 out of 100