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Spotlight on: The Summoning by Bentley Little

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The Summoning by Bentley Little Bentley Little, The Summoning

Something strange is happening in the Arizona town of Rio Verde. Chief of Police Robert Carter was called out to find the body of local citizen Manuel Torres, exsanguinated. His brother Rich, the newspaper editor, is having marriage problems subsequent to his wife Corrie's new job with Pastor Wheeler, who Jesus has just appeared to and told to build a huge black church in preparation for His second coming on October 31st. Meanwhile, the bank president is preparing "uniforms" for his employees by sewing together used underwear and every grave in the town cemetery is exhumed in under one hour.

What the hell is going on here? People are dying left and right, animals and trees are being completely drained of all their fluids, the word "vampire" is whispered throughout the town -- although few will admit to believing in them -- and the matriarch of the Wing family that owns the Chinese restaurant seems to be the only one who holds the secret to protection from the cup hu girngsi ("corpse-who-drinks-blood"). Luckily, their daughter Sue just got a job with the paper.

The Summoning was the first novel I ever read by Bentley Little (who won the Bram Stoker award for his first novel, The Revelation). After seeing his name lauding novels by the likes of Richard Laymon, I decided to try him out, as well. What a treat. Usually, I would first attempt a short story collection by a new author (which would have led me to The Collection instead), but I found this cheap at a used book sale. I also don't usually read "vampire" books, but this one seemed to be approaching the popular myth from a different angle, at which it definitely succeeds. This is no ordinary movie vampire: it doesn't care what religion you are or how you flavor your food. Although he does have a strange disinclination towards jade ...

While The Summoning may not be as fast-paced as one might expect a horror novel to be, but the eerie atmosphere more than makes up for it, and I was constantly engrossed in its pages. Nothing is as it was in Rio Verde and the small town finds itself turned upside down by the conflicting natures as both the "bloodsuckers" and the "Christians" go on related killing sprees. The depth of character is phenomenal. These protagonists are as real as the people you find beside you every day and you can't help but root for them while fearing for their lives. Even Little's portrait of the life and trials of the Wing family (as assisted by his Chinese wife -- Wai Sau -- and the Chu family) are believably drawn (this coming from one who knows little-to-nothing about other cultures).

It never turns into a rollercoaster ride, even during the denouement, but The Summoning is nevertheless a fully satisfying read by one of the genre's top talents. Those searching for something a little more literary with their blood and gore need look no further.

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