Hot Biscuit Productions Inc / 364 pages / 1st edition (October 15, 1999)
Sooner or later, every horror author does it. We can’t help ourselves. The overwhelming compulsion to rewrite Dracula — the need to trot that old vampire legend out for another go. It wouldn’t be so sad if most of them were well done. Or original. It would be wonderful if all of them were as entertaining as The Guardian.
Somehow, Beecher Smith has taken that old saw and made it inventive and original. You might think he’d discovered virgin territory. (Sorry, Beecher. The rest of you will get that once you’ve read the book.)
Where did the original freelance phlebotomist come from? In a prologue captivating enough to expand into its own novel, Smith creates a new legend with some scraps old, some scraps new, and a combination that is all his own. Although just as incredible as Stoker’s version, this tale seems infinitely more plausible. Weirder things have happened.
One of the most engrossing features of The Guardian is Smith’s dance between the drama that produced vampires and the storyline which takes place in contemporary Memphis. Foregoing the flowery and stilted dialogue of many period pieces, he conveys the feel of the 16th century without breaking the mood of the 20th century. The flow from one parallel plot line to another is smooth and seamless, but always distinct.
Let me abandon the vampire origins portion of the book; you would not want me ruining the surprises for you. For diehard vampire fans, though, I will tease you with the fact the Elisabeth Bathory makes an appearance. And that’s all I will say about that.
It may be partly the setting of the contemporary story that makes it so fresh. Vampires, wolves, bats, and Guardians running around the deep South is an interesting twist, especially as Smith chooses a metropolitan area to be the stage. No one in this book came out of the womb playing “Dueling Banjos.”
Then again, it could be the fascinating and complicated characters in The Guardian. Rich, poor, inner-city, country club — people from every level of society play equally important roles in this piece. Economic comfort is no protection from the danger and the temptation that has come to town.
Or, it might be the complex weaving of subplots and the artful way they come together at unexpected times that make the book race across the pages.
Then again, it could be the chance to see the ancient evil carving out a carefully planned and lucrative niche in the modern world. No bungling misunderstandings or suspicious anachronisms give away Stavros, the “king” vampire. He is perfectly and lethally in-sync with our time.
It could be the romance that never becomes too cloying. It could be the slimy, sociopathic creatures who are human, and because of that, even more frightening. Or that fact that very little is pure in The Guardian — no pure good and no pure evil. For the most part.
But, it is really the skillful blending of all these well-crafted pieces that make up one book. One delicious book.
Which reminds me: don’t try to eat while you’re reading The Guardian. You’ll thank me, right about the time you get that joke.