Tanya Huff, Blood Lines (Daw Books, 1993)

Blood Lines is another in Tanya Huff's series of the adventures of Vicki Nelson, PI; Detective Sergeant Mike Celluci of the Toronto Metro Police; and Henry Fitzroy, romance writer and vampire. This installment takes us from the Department of Egyptology of the Royal Ontario Museum to the streets of Toronto to the highest levels of the police force: a mummy is stalking the city, feeding on the young and helpless, with plans that bode no good for the world at large.

Huff has created another horror-suspense novel with a group of interesting characters, a tight plot, and enough tension to keep us turning the pages. There are a few problems: Vicki puts the elements of the mystery together almost too easily, and the passages in which the mummy ruminates on his plans to take over the world veer perilously close to the obvious and overdone. There are compensations, however.

Much of this book is about Henry — he is suddenly aware of another immortal in the city, a very powerful one, first through dreams of the sun that make him think he might commit suicide (he still has a scarred hand from his last contact with direct daylight), and then through a direct encounter in which Tawfik, the mummy, offers him alliance — with, of course, his own motives carefully hidden. Tawfik loses Henry, first by presenting a threat to Tony, a hustler who has become Henry's second regular source of blood and sex, and then by arranging for Vicki to be arrested and buried in the prison system under a false name. There are some interesting takes on the way an immortal, and a vampire to boot, differs from the ordinary.

The triangle between Vicki, Celluci and Henry also develops further, with suitable dominance displays, and we see a growing realization on Celluci's part that his preconceptions about Henry are not going to be helpful as he is led, kicking and screaming, to a reassessment of Henry, Vicki, and the way he himself fits into things. He also meets someone who engages his interest almost as much as Vicki has in the person of Dr. Rachel Shane, Assistant Curator of Egyptology at the ROM, a woman of wit, intelligence, and independence who reminds him almost too much of Vicki. Tony, whom we met in Blood Price as a minor character, is given more scope: his reaction to an encounter with Tawfik and his feelings toward Henry, which he can't really describe even to himself, although there is no doubt that they are genuine, add a new dimension to his character and kick him well up from the level of bit player.

One reason it is so easy to like this series is that the books don't take themselves too seriously. Huff is dealing with cheap horror movie ideas, and classic ones at that, filtered through her own awareness of just what they are and what place they hold in the history of popular culture, and gives us enough in the way of tongue-in-cheek references that we know she knows exactly what she's doing. And, as predictable as these stories might have been, Huff has her own approach that builds in enough variation that they are not as predictable as we might have expected, while the camp element is subtle enough not to undercut enough dramatic and psychological tension. You can't put these books down.

[Robert Tilendis]