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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Blood and Bullets by James R. Tuck w/ Bonus Review of "That Thing At The Zoo" (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Read an Excerpt HERE
Order the book HERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: James R. Tuck was born and brought up in Georgia. His path to publication was strangely without an agent and solely due to his manuscript. He’s formerly worked as a bouncer and is a professional tattoo artist with more than 16 years of experience. He also runs his own tattoo parlor and resides in Georgia with his wife and pets. This is his debut novel.

OFFICIAL BLURB: He lives to kill monsters. He keeps his city safe. And his silver hollow-points and back-from-the-dead abilities help him take out any kind of supernatural threat. But now an immortal evil has this bad-ass bounty hunter dead in its sights. . .

Ever since a monster murdered his family, Deacon Chalk hunts any creature that preys on the innocent. So when a pretty vampire girl "hires" him to eliminate a fellow slayer, Deacon goes to warn him--and barely escapes a vampire ambush. Now he's got a way-inexperienced newbie hunter to protect and everything from bloodsuckers to cursed immortals on his trail. There's also a malevolent force controlling the living and the undead, hellbent on turning Deacon's greatest loss into the one weapon that could destroy him. . .

FORMAT/INFO: Blood and Bullets is 352 pages long divided over twenty-four numbered chapters. Narration is in the first-person solely via Deacon Chalk. Blood and Bullets is first book of the Deacon Chalk: Occult Bounty Hunter series.

February 1, 2012 marked the North American paperback and e-book publication of Blood and Bullets via Kensington Books.

ANALYSIS: James R. Tuck’s debut promised a lot of blood, mayhem and particularly dark corners in the urban fantasy world. I am usually a sucker for urban fantasy stories and if they are of the darker kind, then it just becomes that much easier for me to pick up those books. So it's with a similar kind of anticipation that I went into the first Deacon Chalk book.

The story is a very traditional urban fantasy with Deacon Chalk narrating the story, the opening chapter brings Deacon face to face with a child vampire and one who shares a bare resemblance to his lost daughter. Things aren't looking good for him but the vampire surprises him by asking for his protection. She is being hunted by a being called Nyteblade and seeks protection from the threat. This puts the vampire hunter into a quandary as his usual role does not have him turning protector for the very things he has sworn to hunt. Things however don’t end to the vampire’s benefit and Deacon is on his way to check up on Nyteblade. This is where’s the story actually picks up and the actual plot kicks in.

The book with its dark, haunted protagonist, grim settings and fast paced plotline seemed to be everything which qualifies as fun reads for me, but somehow this book didn't do nearly enough. I shall present both reasons as to why I both liked and disliked certain aspects in this book and then maybe I shall be able to decide where I stand in the overall conclusion to the book. The positive points to the book are its quick pace, excellent action packed sequences and plot compactness. Firstly the best thing about this book is its pace, beginning from the first chapter all the way to its explosive climax. The book never lets us down in this aspect and the reader will not feel bored as things are constantly happening on the page. The author’s flair for action sequences is certainly visible as Deacon Chalk is constantly going into or getting out of fights with vampires, their underlings and others sorts of things which tend to cross his path. Lastly the story is a compact one with a proper beginning and end as the author has very conveniently structured the plot so as to get the reader hooked for the sequel. Another cool feature which I read were some careful nods inserted to the creations of Laurell K. Hamilton, Jeaniene Frost, Supernatural TV series and a few others. This was just funny and a bit quirky to read about.

Now onto the parts that dragged the book down were its predictability, the main character’s multifaceted persona and two dimensional character cast. The biggest letdown for me was the character’s multifaceted persona, normally this would have been something to be counted as a positive however in this case the author has tried to make Deacon Chalk a man of many talents/sides. This perhaps worked against the book as the character does or says things which contradicts his own observations from earlier in the book. One example of such behavior is that the character constantly proclaims that he’s not looking for company to replace his dead wife but then alternately talks about the specific type of perfume he utilizes and how his appearance attracts the ladies. Another point was that this hunter is supposed to be a person whose sole obsession in life is to hunt down supernatural killers but alternatively he has time to note what presume and specific type of clothes he wears that accentuate his looks. The aforementioned reasons along with a couple other occurrences didn't gel with what the character kept on proclaiming. Usually I don’t get bothered by such trivial things however in this case I felt that the author was trying to paint Deacon as more than a man and this attempt translated into giving him more than one persona that ruined the read for me as the main character’s chatter made him seem more like a loudmouth than the real deal.

I will admit that this was purely my observational bias and maybe most readers will not be bothered by it however it stood in the way of me enjoying the book. The second downward point is that the plot’s nature is predictable not overtly but for regular readers of the urban fantasy genre, it won’t be hard to decipher where the overall plot might be heading. Thirdly the character cast which is introduced in this book seem very interesting however don’t get much time on screen to make their presence felt. They remain two dimensional sidekicks and this again detracted a bit from the overall read. I would like to think that since it’s the author’s debut that some of these points can be overlooked and perhaps in the future books the author might be able to fine tune the character so as to not seem overbearing. I look forward to those future endeavors because of the novella which I also read at the same time and which helped redeem the author’s cause.

CONCLUSION: Blood and Bullets is a quintessential urban fantasy book which promises to deliver like any Michael Bay film for readers who are looking for those sort of thrills. It however doesn't distinguish itself from the crowd and this is perhaps its greatest fallacy. It remains to be seen where this series heads in the future but for now Blood and Bullets wasn't a debut which particularly delivered on its blurb promises.

Order the Novella HERE

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: That Thing At The Zoo is a prequel novella set approximately six months before the events of Blood and Bullets. The story blurb is as follows: “Knowing his enemy is a rule Deacon Chalk swears by. But he's never seen anything like whatever is leaving the Atlanta Zoo's most dangerous predators bloodless, skinned, and hanging high in treetops. And he’s only got till sunrise to keep it from turning the entire city into a slaughterhouse. Now Deacon is in zoo lockdown with a handful of staffers to save. His zookeeper backup has more guts than monster-hunting experience. And the only chance Deacon has to run this thing to unholy ground is to risk unleashing his darkest, most uncontrollable instincts.”

The novella is about 80-odd pages long and is divided into eleven chapters. Akin to Blood and Bullets, this prequel story is also narrated by Deacon Chalk. The story premise focuses on the Atlanta zoo wherein someone or something is slaughtering the animals however the peculiar nature of the kill is what gets Deacon invited to the crime scene. Detective John Longyard knows about Deacon’s past and is a part of it; he also has some semblance of foresight into Deacon’s current goals. He brings Deacon to the zoo to solve the problem and that’s when the bedlam begins.

I really enjoyed reading this novella as it felt that the author’s strengths were maximized in this form of the story and there wasn’t enough space/time for the negatives to make an appearance. Once again the pace of the story is its highlight as the author quickly brings the reader up to speed and then lets things go haywire. Another positive feature is the horror edge to this story which is nicely nuanced by the zoo location, the author has managed to let his imagination take some weirdly creative turns which accentuate the story's darkness. The author also wisely utilizes the side character cast in this tale and therefore they get much more of a bigger role than in the debut novel.

After finishing this novella I was struck by two things, primarily that James R Tuck really nails down this novella idea mixing horror and thriller themes within the urban fantasy sub-genre and secondly this novella is much better than the actual book purely because the nature of the story does not let the author create the points which I noted in the review above that detracted from my reading experience. I would very much recommend this novella to readers who are looking for a quick thrill ride, with the hope that the author can recreate his form in the longer forms of his craft in the future as well.



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