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Blood Debt
By Tanya Huff

Reviewed by Carl Cipra
Rating: none given

Have you been longing for your latest Tanya Huff "fix"? Well, the wait is over - Tanya's latest novel, Blood Debt, is out on the stands! It's the fifth (possibly final?) entry in the "Victory Nelson, Otherworldly Investigator" series. It chronicles the further supernatural detective adventures of Victoria "Victory" Nelson (ex-Toronto cop, ex-mortal) and Henry Fitzroy (bastard son of King Henry VIII, romance novelist, vampire). As a reminder, Vicki and Henry's previous adventures are chronicled in four novels (Blood Price, Blood Trail, Blood Lines, Blood Pact - all published by DAW Books) and one short story ("This Town Ain't Big Enough," in Vampire Detectives - DAW Books).
It's been a year or so (I think) since circumstances forced Henry to make Vicki into one of the undead (as related in the final chapters of Blood Pact); and Henry has already taught Vicki what she needs to know to survive as a vampire.  And, "as everyone knows," vampires are highly territorial; so the one-time lovers have had to separate.  Henry and his current mortal lover, Tony, now live in Vancouver, while Vicki and her longtime (mortal) boyfriend, Detective-Sergeant Michael Celluci, have remained in Toronto.
One twilight, Henry awakens to discover he's being haunted by ghosts.  Said spectres are apparently demanding that Henry avenge their deaths - but they're unable to actually communicate their desires.  The kicker is that Henry can only ask one "yes/no" question per night - and every negative answer causes the death of some nearby innocent human!  A tough case to crack!  So Henry calls in the pro, Vicki Nelson, undead private investigator.  (She's previously dealt with demons, werewolves, mummies, zombies, and other vampires - so why not ghosts?)  Vicki and Michael manage to make it all the way across Canada (a strange sort of vampiric Odyssey); and their investigation seems to indicate that some type of illegal "organ-legging" operation is going on, where young people are murdered as unwilling organ-donors to benefit wealthy clients - hence, the ghosts haunting Henry.
 But solving the case is not the only conflict that needs to be resolved.  Throughout the action, the two vampires' proximity to each other makes them grate on each others' undead nerves like some sort of psychic sandpaper, goading them into bouts of mindless, deadly competition.  Why?  Opinions differ (and I paraphrase):  Henry - "It's always been this way with vampires; it's instinctual and will never change!"  vs. Vicki - "Bullshit!  We're intelligent adults!  We should be able to get over it!"  With all the vampiric in-fighing, can Vicki and Henry solve the case and end the murders (both criminal and ghostly) before too many more innocent humans die?
As with all of Tanya Huff's other "Victory Nelson" novels, Blood Debt is well-written and action-packed.  The villains are so suitably vile that you'll be rooting for them to "get what's coming to ‘em."  The criminal activities that drive the plot are an interesting variation on Victorian "body-snatcher" stories - coupled with a touch of the "mad scientist" story (à la Dr. Frankenstein); and the frustrated, murderous ghosts add an interesting dimension to the story - as well as acting as the motivation for getting Vicki and Henry back together.
In Blood Debt, the emotional tension of Vicki-and-Henry-as-lovers (as developed in the previous "Blood" novels) has been replaced with the instinctual tension between Vicki-and-Henry-as-vampires.  As a reader, I'm not sure I find this new type of tension as "attractive" as what it replaced; I don't know if it'll sustain interest as well.  This "new arrangement" also pretty much negates the tension of the Henry-Vicki-Michael lovers' triangle, since Michael is well aware of the "territorial vampire" tradition that should keep Vicki and Henry from ever becoming lovers again.  There is, however, some fascinating soul-searching on the part of both Tony and Michael, as the mortal lovers of two vampires, on the ultimate and disturbing fate of any mortal-undead relationship.  And, with Vicki "out of the running," Ms. Huff is able to provide readers with a clearer view of Henry's relationship with Tony - a view that varies between endearing and poignant.
As a side note, at the same time as I was reading Blood Debt, I was also reading another vampire novel - The Night Stalker, by Jeff Rice (Pocket Books, 1973).  The Night Stalker is the novel upon which Richard Matheson based his screenplay for the made-for-TV movie of the same name (thus, also the source of the Kolchak: Night Stalker TV series); and it provided an interesting contrast to Blood Debt.  Both stories deal with vampires in a modern North American urban setting, but there the similarity ends.  The vampire in The Night Stalker is the "traditional" murderous predator (in the tradition of Count Dracula, that is).  Tanya Huff's Henry Fitzroy, on the other hand, is definitely an example of the more "modern" benevolent-protector type of vampire that you tend to find nowadays (such as Chelsea Quinn Yarbro's Saint-Germain and Jewelle Gomez's Gilda).  Both types of vampire stories are satisfying, each in its own way.  I guess it just depends on what type of vampire story you're "thirsting" after!

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