Redlaw by James Lovegrove
There’s a blurb from The Bookseller that appears on several of James Lovegrove’s book covers that reads “Lovegrove has become to the 21st Century what J.G. Ballard was to the 20th.” I find this comparison funny, or at least peculiar, as I vaguely recall somebody–possibly Mark Ziesing–calling Ballard the 20th Century’s H.G. Wells. (Never mind that Wells lived and wrote well into the second World War.) Does this make Lovegrove–by extension, as it were–the 21st Century Wells? While I can attest to the validity of the Ballard / Wells comparison, I had never read any Lovegrove until recently.
Lovegrove seems to be best known for Age of Ra, an alternate history sci-fi action spectacular in which the Gods of ancient Egypt have taken over the British Empire. The premise is a bit outlandish, perhaps, but no more so than the alien lizard people who rule Britannia in Lavie Tidhar’s Bookman Histories. It could be wonderful. So why didn’t I start there? A stroll over to Solaris Books–Lovegrove’s mass market publisher–will show you why. Though Age of Ra is a relatively recent book, it has already been followed by Age of Zeus, Age of Odin, Age of Aztec, and Age of Voodoo, as well as the novellas Age of Anasazi, Age of Satan, and Age of Gaia. While the urge to repeat a success is certainly understandable, a palpable odor of dead horse hangs over this series. I decided to start elsewhere.
The new series starter Redlaw seemed more my speed anyway. Our titular hero, John Redlaw, is an officer of SHADE, the Sunless Housing and Disclosure Executive, Sunless being the politically correct term for vampires. Redlaw is an aging veteran, having joined SHADE at the time of its formation twenty-some years previously, when the sunless–driven from their traditional Balkan homelands–started arriving on British shores. At present, the sunless are corralled into SRAs–Sunless Resettlement Areas–fenced ghettos reminiscent of prewar Nazi Germany’s housing for Jews. In theory, the fences keep the human and vampire populations safely divided. In practice, the strong and agile sunless can leave any time they like, though they risk summary destruction at the hands of SHADE. Vampire-hating Stoker gangs roam the borders of the SRAs, eager for a piece of the action. When this uneasy truce is broken by a series of riots, Redlaw begins to suspect that someone is manipulating both groups. But to what end?
Vampires aside, Redlaw is your basic troubled-cop-uncovers-massive-conspiracy potboiler structured like an open-play mystery, where the reader knows more than the protagonist. Our villain, Nathaniel Lambourne, is a fairly standard evil billionaire, aided and abetted by the more well rounded Giles Slocock, a brutally self-serving MP. Action sequences punctuate the plot at regular intervals, including an all out riot at the very steps of Parliament.
Lovegrove tries to elevate his narrative to the level of allegory, making clear parallels between the treatment of the sunless–most of whom were turned against their will–and the real-world treatment of other despised minorities, especially Jews. I find this analogy suspect, to say the least. Left to their own devices, the vampires in this story would most certainly prey on human beings. They are predators and must be confined, if not destroyed outright. This is not the case with living minorities. Contrary to what some people seem to think, Jews don’t drink human blood.
Overall, Redlaw is an fairly entertaining read, even if it takes itself a bit too seriously. It’s not a patch on Hard Spell or Midnight Riot, but it will do. I’ll most likely pick up the sequel at some point, though I hope Lovegrove quits before the premise gets stale. After all, H.G. Wells never wrote Return to the Island of Doctor Moreau or The Time Machine, Part Two.