Thursday, July 13, 2017

Those Who Hunt the Night

Those Who Hunt the Night (1988) by Barbara Hambly falls under quite a few categories: horror, gothic, paranormal, fantasy...and mystery. At its core, this story which features a large number of vampires is a good old fashioned mystery. Somebody is killing the vampires of the London. Vampires have been in England since Elizabeth the first was queen but now they're being killed by someone who knows the ins and outs of how to safely do away with the undead; someone who can stand the light of day in order to rip open the shutters and boarded-up windows and fling aside the coffin lids that protect the vampires from the killing light; someone who knows to decapitate them and drive stakes through their hearts. And Simon Ysidro, the oldest of the London vampires, knows that he must find someone who can operate in the sunlight to track down the killer. He must do what none of his kind have done before...take a mortal into his confidence.

So, Professor James Asher, formerly at Her Majesty's service in the Great Game of spying, comes home one evening to find his wife and servants in a strange coma and Ysidro seated at his desk. Asher has lately spent his time as a researcher in legends and languages and is soon convinced that Ysidro is what he claims. To ensure that Asher will work for him, the vampire also proves that he now holds a power over Mrs. Asher that will reach her no matter where she may go. Asher has felt similar pressures to do work that may not have been to his liking while in the espionage game, but he's always had a bit of leverage that kept him safe after the game was over. What leverage can he find that will keep him safe once he finds the vampire hunter? Why would Ysidro let him go free now that Asher knows vampires really do exist? And, of course, before that consideration, what if the vampire hunter realizes he's on the trail?

Asher's wife Lydia is more than just an ornamental Victorian wife. She is one of the few women to go to medical school in the late Victorian era and she is eager to help her husband with his investigation. They do what they can to make themselves as safe as possible--from vampires and vampire-hunter alike--by taking separate lodgings in London. She will spend her days researching long-standing land holdings and other financial oddities that might give a clue to other vampires in the city (part of Asher's plan to gather "insurance") while her husband assists Ysidro. It is an intricate trail...but one that leads far closer to home than the Ashers would like. Ysidro and the other vampires may not be their greatest threat after all....

I'm not particularly a fan of vampire books. I do like the original Dracula and there have been a few short stories featuring vampirism that have been well done, but more recent works (Interview with the Vampire, for instance) have definitely not been my things. The greatest attraction of Those Who Hunt the Night for me was the mystery element. I found it quite intriguing to have the detective of the piece setting out to hunt down the vampire hunter. Hambly did a good job setting the ground work for Asher's motivation to find and stop the vampire killer. And once we were allowed to get to know Ysidro, I began to want Asher to find the killer for the vampires' sakes and not just to prevent harm to Asher's family. 

Hambly also provides us with vampires that seem very plausible--explaining their powers and their condition more scientifically (in keeping with the late Victorian era's developments in science and medicine). Her characters are well-drawn and interesting and it seems very possible that Ysidro and the other vampires could have been alive for hundreds of years. She also examines the ideas of predation and what toll such an existence might take on a being. Some of the vampires seem to exult in their powers over mortals, but others seem to consider the effects of their actions more thoughtfully--it doesn't, of course, prevent them from preying on mortals as they must needs do; but they do seem to struggle a bit with what they must do. A comparison is made to some of the deeds Asher performed in the name of Queen and Country while a spy. He may have regretted them, but they were a necessary part of his job.

The mystery plot is little thin--particularly in the initial actions that drive the killer to his murderous undertakings. But, overall, this historical novel does well. Good period atmosphere and background; excellent characterization; and interesting storyline beyond the mystery plot. ★★★★

[finished on 7/7/17]
This counts for the "Candle/Etc (Lantern)" category on the Silver Vintage Scavenger Hunt card.

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