These days, many readers seem inclined to preface the introduction of a vampire novel by stating something like “These vampires don’t sparkle!” But I think that is an injustice the blood-sucking subgenre. There’s no doubt that with titles like Let the Right One In by John Lindqvist and Guillermo del Toro & Chuck Hogan’s vampire apocalypse trilogy The Strain the vampire trope is still as entertaining and horrifying as ever. While not in the same vein (haha) of seriousness as the aforementioned Lindqvist masterpiece and del Toro / Hogan thriller, Hearty’s Donor is a welcomed addition to a slew of novels that prove it’ll take more than sparkling vampires to ruin ancient mythology.
Richard is a modern vampire who likes to eat in. That’s why he always keeps a fresh victim trapped in his home. All of his captives eventually die; Lenore hopes to be the first to escape.
Life at Richard’s is short but never dull. Not with Richard’s vampire friend, Paul, constantly popping in. Paul loves toying with Richard’s victims before they die. But is Paul getting too attached to his plaything? His human servant, Charles, certainly thinks so. Charles is next in line to be turned and wants to eliminate the competition.
If Charles’s schemes don’t kill Lenore, then Richard’s hunger surely will. Lenore has a plan to survive, but someone will have to die in her place. She now has something terrible in common with her captor: she must kill in order to live.
There are a number of incarnations to explore with vampires. They are romantic yet terrifying creatures with centuries of obscure history like in Bram Stoker’s Dracula; they are an infected mass, the result of a pandemic as in Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend; and they are sweet young girls praying on innocent beauties like the one we meet in Sheridan Le Fanu’s “Carmilla.” The numerous viewpoints by which we explore vampirism allow for an interesting meditation on our fear of death, aging, addiction, and fear of the “other” and this is why it’s a horror device I never tire of.
In Donor, Hearty diverts attention away from the supernatural element of the vampire mythos to focus on a real world scenario in which they exist. She demythologizes the vampire by introducing two bloodsuckers, Richard and Paul, flawed with weakness like any other mortal human being – Richard with his narcissism and sadistic nature, Paul with his proclivity to loneliness. Hearty doesn’t include much of a back story for the characters, but they don’t need one because it’s irrelative to the plot. The reader will be more concerned with Lenore’s potential undoing. Will Richard bleed her dry? Will Charles orchestrate her demise? Or will she be clever enough to get out of live-in donor status and actually survive?
The novel opens with Lenore outside Richard’s apartment waiting for entry to buy some records he’s selling. Unfortunately, once inside Lenore is witness to a horrific accident (the details of which we are not privy to until later) and is forced to become Richard’s new live-in blood donor. For the remainder of the story we hardly leave the apartment, but you won’t really notice. There’s plenty more action and suspense (and tension!) than outside.
Lenore isn’t Richard’s first live-in donor and she definitely won’t be the last, but she’s different than the others. Namely, she’s completely unfazed by the vampires and the violence she’s witnessed because Lenore has an addiction of her own; Xanax. This important detail gives the reader something to chew on as Lenore rationalizes her need for the drug while condemning Richard and Paul for their need for blood.
Lenore starts out with a black and white view of killing. She claims “You either kill people or you don’t. That’s not one of those subjects where there’s a ton of gray area.” But as the story progresses she has to reconcile that initial belief with her need to survive. Are there circumstances when it is OK to kill? Even necessary? In her case, it is if you want to survive.
There are a couple laugh-out-loud moments, for example when Richard is playing up the vampire shtick to scare Lenore. She’s asking about the previous donor trying to get the lay of the land asking:
“Did Angela go in there?”
His grin widened. “You might say she never left.”
“I meant to do laundry.”
Donor is a vampire story with a morbid sense of humor, a twisted black comedy and it’s just a blast to read. I would highly recommend this to anyone who wants to get a fresh perspective on an age-old trope, enjoy a well-paced suspenseful story, and have a few laughs.
Visit Samhain Publishing’s website to get a copy of Donor.
Come back tomorrow to learn more about the author Elena Hearty in an exclusive Dreadful Tales interview!