“We often live next to monsters unawares.”

Author: Christopher Buehlman

Joey Peacock’s life is frozen at fourteen. Forty years later, still with the drive and desires of an adolescent, living in the subway tunnels as the undead, Joey tells his story: the dirty, the ugly, the desperate, the horrifying buried in the ordinary. Whether he is seducing young women and telling himself that it wasn’t the vampiric charm, or bleeding obnoxious businessmen in the back of dirty cabs, Joey is getting by. He even likes part of his life, including his visits to an easily hypnotized family, whom he feeds on while catching up with the latest sitcoms. It’s at turns disturbing and yet oddly empathetic, as this once human monster tries to navigate life as the undead and make peace with himself.

But then, our smack talking, New York accented, irreverent Joey sees something that changes everything: child vampires on the subway. They’re like him, but not entirely like him. Who would do this to a child? Who is turning children and why? Who is looking after these lost souls who haunt the subways and charm you with their liquid, fearful eyes?

Morality for a vampire is a touchy thing, yet Joey feels like he must do right. Some things are a call to action, no matter the consequences. But what is true in this dark narrative, in this story within a story, where even Joey tells us from the first chapter to trust nothing and no one, especially not himself?

I started The Lesser Dead with zero enthusiasm. My horror book club selected this work, and after the generally blasé storyline and incredibly slow progression of Let the Right One In, I wasn’t looking forward to another modern, seedy vampire tale. I prefer my vampires far more guilt ridden, and closer to the ancient sexiness of Dracula as opposed to the modern subway dwellers. But something about Joey, that weird openness that we know better than to trust, yet still feel drawn to, overcame my doubts. This story is more than a jaunt through the seedy

Image by Stefan Klee from Pixabay

underbelly with sex and drugs and stinking subway rails. It is something altogether more human and yet more terrifying, and the twists, especially the ending, kept me guessing and wondering. All is not what it seems. Is survival as a vampire justified? What about these poor children – are they who and what they seem to be?

Throughout The Lesser Dead we’re presented with the mercenary evilness of our newly turned vampires, bitter and surviving, but still living within rules (no “peeling,” aka killing.) And then we’re presented with a greater evil, one with no remaining conscience and little sanity. It’s an underground battle that draws us in, makes us care and cringe at the same time, plays our heartstrings and makes us extend a forgiveness that is ultimately not wanted and possibly not deserved.

I was hooked from the beginning, and author Christopher Buehlman is also an amazing narrator, his reading making the story even better, capturing the cadence of the different voices and accents, making the ending that much more of a gut punch. This book isn’t what you think, and the write-up fails to capture all the complexities. Highly recommended for all readers. You won’t forget this story, and Joey’s voice will echo in your mind long after the last page flutters closed.


– Frances Carden

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Frances Carden
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