He isn’t Dracula. He certainly doesn’t bear any resemblance to Anne Rice’s LeStat. Where those two vampires are more well-known and perhaps, more suave, Jules Duchon makes up for in girth, 450 pounds of it. Jules is the titular character of Andrew Fox’s entertaining debut novel, Fat White Vampire Blues. Jules has resided amongst the living and undead in New Orleans for about 100 years and things are changing, life is happening around him and more importantly, to him. He has dwelled in the same house for nearly a century, dining on the blood of locals. Unfortunately, a new ‘young’ black vampire named Malice X has decided Jules should get out of New Orleans, Jules doesn’t take to well to this, even after his house is burned down and he is attacked numerous times.
I wasn’t sure what to expect with this novel, considering that Vampire fiction as its own subset of Speculative Fiction and as such, can often be rife with cliché, but I am always up for trying new authors. Sometimes entering a book with little preconceived notions is the best way to go, since I enjoyed this novel a great deal. One of the strongest attributes of this novel is how well Fox was able to put the reader in New Orleans. I’ve only been to New Orleans once, but reading of Jules (mis)adventure really made feel as if I was visiting the Crescent City once again. Jules "blood-mother" Maureen, the vampire who made him a vampire, takes Jules in to her home after his home is burned down. Maureen is an equally girthy vampire who also happens to be a stripper. As Jules flounders in depression, he reminisces of his early days as a vampire, reading Golden Age comic books, pulp fiction, and patrolling the city as the Hooded Terror, with his "sidekick" Doodlebug, the vampire Jules created. Doodlebug and Jules had departed on less than amicable terms, but since Jules is in a bit of a jam, Doodlebug’s aid is enlisted, begrudgingly, and the two are reunited after many years apart to even up the score with Malice X.
Another strong aspect of this novel is the cast of characters Fox has created. They are a bit over-the-top and larger than life, but they are well developed and very endearing. At times Jules acts rather pig-headed and stubborn, but for all of Jules’ faults, and there are quite a few, he is still a curmudgeonly character you can warm up to. Doodlebug just might be the most enigmatic vampire I’ve come across, and maybe the most flamboyant. He plays very well against the stubborn headed character of Jules, offering the right amount of insight into just what Jules can do, in terms of his untapped vampiric abilities.
As stated, Vampire fiction is practically its own genre anymore. From Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Anne Rice’s vampires, to the recent Van Helsing movie to Stoker’s Dracula, the vampire has just as many clichés and tropes as any genre. Fox knows this and plays with some of them, like how the blood from the person affects the weight of the Vampire. Jules has been dining on some of the "better eaters" in New Orleans and as such their blood is laced with the cholesterol and fat, which has the same effect on Jules (or any vampire for that matter) as cholesterol and fat would on a normal person. Another convention he plays on, to a logical and great effect, is the vampire’s ability to morph into other shapes, like wolves, bats, or mist. I’ll leave it that, but this and quite a few of the other accepted qualities of vampires are explored to great effect.
While there are generous portions of humor, Fox infuses the novel with some serious overtones and relevant ideas. He touches upon racism and how it is thriving in the world of the undead. He doesn’t brow beat the reader, but he presents it fairly well as an aspect of the New Orleans world of the undead. Fox also addresses the odd parental relationship, almost Oedipal, inherent in being a Vampire.
Overall, this was quite an entertaining novel, debut or otherwise. Being a collector and fan of comic books, I enjoyed how Mr. Fox incorporated his love for comics into Jules character. In this novel, he has created a character who can fill out quite a few more novels, as well as vampiric world, as well as a wonderful New Orleans, and engaging supporting characters to warrant further misadventures and explorations of Jules Duchon. If you are looking for page-turner that is an entertaining, funny, flat-out enjoyable read, look no further than Andrew Fox’s Fat White Vampire Blues.
Visit Andrew Fox’s Web site: http://www.andrewfoxbooks.com
Reviewed by Rob H. Bedford
© 2004 Rob Bedford
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