I received this book for free from the Publisher, NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.The Suicide Motor Club by Christopher Buehlman
Published by Berkley on June 7 2016
Genres: Adult, Horror
Source: Publisher, NetGalley
The nitty-gritty: Mix the dark absurdity of Pulp Fiction with fast cars, set the story in the late 60s, add in a handful of bloodthirsty vampires and a young woman who is set on vengeance, and you have a stellar novel that is a MUST READ for horror fans.
“I don’t believe in vampires,” Sam said. “But I do believe in assholes.”
(That’s my favorite quote from the book, by the way.)
Sometimes a book comes along that reminds me why I love reading, and The Suicide Motor Club is one of these rare books. I have to admit I’ve been feeling a little blah about reading and blogging lately, mostly due to an extremely busy schedule in other areas of my life. Writing reviews especially has felt like a chore, and even though I realize that reviews are the reason I started this blog in the first place, sometimes I just don’t feel like writing them. But then I read Buehlman’s latest and I couldn’t wait to sit down and tell you all about it! First of all, you should know this is a vampire story, but these are unlike any vampires I’ve ever come across before. They are familiar in some ways—they drink blood from humans, they can’t go outside during the day, and they have miraculous healing powers. But I found them to be horrifically terrifying and honestly more like serial killers than supernatural creatures. Buehlman’s vampires are undead nasties who hole up during the day in abandoned mines and dilapidated shelters of one sort or another, but by night they cruise the dark streets of America in their hot rods, causing horrific car accidents and feasting on the crash victims. There’s a car on the book cover for a good reason: cars play a central role in the story, both in the machinations of the killings, and the characters’ love of big engines and shiny paint jobs.
Judith Lamb and her family are driving one night when a car with its head lights off pulls up beside them. Judith is horrified when a deathly pale man in the backseat reaches through the window and grabs her son Glendon, yanking him into the car. The ’67 Camaro peels off into the night before Judith or her husband Robert can react, but the worst is yet to come. Following close behind, a red GTO rams into their car and causes a grisly accident, killing Robert and gravely injuring Judith.
When Judith wakes up in the hospital, her husband is dead and her son has been kidnapped and is likely dead as well. Survivor’s guilt and lots of soul-searching lead Judith to joining a convent in the hopes of becoming a nun someday. But now, two years later, a stranger comes to visit her, claiming that he is a member of a group of vampire hunters called the Bereaved, men who have been watching and studying groups of vampires for years in the hopes of destroying them some day. Their leader, Phillip Wicklow, asks Judith to leave the convent and join them in their fight, explaining that her connection to the convent gives her a holy status that could be a powerful force against the creatures.
Judith’s desire for revenge leads her to accept Wicklow’s offer, but killing vampires is a nearly impossible—not to mention deadly—task. As Judith prepares for the battle ahead, she’s going to need all her faith to survive, as well as the physical skills she’s learned from her father. Because these vampires are mean. And tricky. And worst of all, they’re hell on wheels…
Wow, where to start? First of all, this book is a flawless example of how to write a horror story, and it’s one of the best of that genre that I’ve ever read (and that’s saying something—I’ve read a lot of horror fiction). Buehlman’s writing is part poetry and part nasty Southern Gothic drawl. Each sentence is perfectly timed and perfectly placed. Buehlman just understands the rhythms in writing, and it’s a rare thing. I also have to mention that the way he writes a character’s inner dialogue reminded me so much of Stephen King, except that Buelhman’s prose is so much better.
Word of warning: if you don’t like reading about car crashes, then this might not be the book for you. There are some pretty hairy scenes that involve fatal crashes, and what’s even more terrifying is the fact that Luther and his vamp friends deliberately cause these accidents. As I mentioned before, the horror in The Suicide Motor Club is more of the human variety, which makes these characters even scarier. Yes, the vampires have sharp teeth and they drink blood, but they also shoot guns and wield knives, and they do it with shit-eating grins on their faces. These aren’t the sort of folks you want to encounter at night on a lonely stretch of road.
Another of Buehlman’s strengths is his ability to write deep and sympathetic characters, and even the meanest of the vampires, a piece of work named Luther, has a past life as a race car driver, who even now as a vampire loves cars. I loved these little details, the character traits that make even the worst and nastiest characters come across as human. (Although there is a vampire named Calcutta who didn’t have any redeeming qualities, from what I could tell. She was one of the scariest characters I’ve ever encountered!)
And then there is Judith, who has lost everything and doesn’t know where to turn. The fact that she takes steps to become a nun, of all things, gives her the strength she needs to fight the vampires. Judith seems meek and helpless in the beginning scenes, especially after her son is taken so brutally. But she rallies back with a dark purpose when she’s given the chance to exact vengeance, and this side of Judith really surprised me. Buehlman gives us wonderful back-story details about growing up with a father who not only taught her how to shoot and fight, but imparted important life lessons to her at the same time. Judith isn’t a flashy character, but she’s one I’ll remember for a very long time.
Buehlman frames his story by dividing it into five main sections, each one becoming increasingly more tense as the story goes along. By the time we’re introduced to a new vampire character named Clayton, I had the dreaded feeling of just where things were headed, and I was right. I suddenly felt like I was in the speeding car, unable to prevent what was coming. And these are the magical moments in storytelling that are so elusive. The last page of the story gave me chills, the good kind that you get when everything comes together just right in the end. Every aspiring writer should read this book and take notes—this is how it’s done.
Big thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy.