When playing with familiar horror tropes, authors can easily fall prey to clichés. That’s what I thought was happening in Suckers. I mean, it’s called Suckers, so it must be a vampire book, right? And how tedious is it that a bat bites the main character at night in an alley? Haven’t we all seen that before? Then the main character has to fight off a sudden thirst for blood. How original.
But what’s the deal with the buzzing sound he hears when he’s got the thirst? And the worms squirming around in his eyes? And the news reports of people going crazy? That’s not typical vampire shit. And that’s why I kept reading.
Z. Rider does a fantastic job of playing off clichés and defying reader expectations every step of the way. Suckers follows Dan Ferry, guitar player in the sorta-famous-in-a-small-clubs kind of way band Two Tons Of Dirt. Dan gets bit and struggles with the thirst, fighting the urge to suck the blood out of all his friends and instead resorting to seeking blood donors on Craigslist. Along the way, Suckersturns out to be something completely different than a vampire story, something totally unexpected, while still keeping its footing in the horror genre.
It doesn’t hurt that the characters are incredibly likeable. Dan and his bandmate Ray have been rocking together for years, and it’s pretty clear that a little bit of bloodshed isn’t going to tear them apart. Z. Rider paints a compelling portrait of the life of a struggling band—the practices, the recording, the tours, the drama with a drug-addled drummer. The only frustrating element is that the book never shows the band on stage, never gets Dan and Ray in front of a crowd, in their element, rocking out with their proto punk-influenced rock‘n’roll. While that’s kind of a bummer, it’s also true to the tone of the story. Most of it is fairly confined, focusing on interpersonal drama and the impact of one friend’s sudden bloodlust.
In the end, this is a really satisfying read for a horror fan, not just because of the messing around with vampire clichés, not just because of the violence or the constant surprises, but because as the book progresses, these characters become family, and it’s hard not to become a fan of Two Tons Of Dirt (And Z. Rider, too). –MP Johnson (Dark Ride Publishing, PO Box 63, Erwin, TN37650, darkridepublishing.com)