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Book Review / All In by Russell Isler

All In novel cover by Russell Isler

Eddy Fry is living out his afterlife in relative peace and quiet. Well, in relative wealth and comfort, as he owns his own casino and likes to hit on the ladies to get his blood quota. Oh yeah, Eddy's a vampire. And apparently the only one in town.

Something's up though, and he finds himself the target of some unknown group, which he manages to stay one step ahead of...except when he doesn't. That's when he comes face to face with the only thing worse than a single vampire. A vampire with family, and worse, an eye for his stuff.

I love this book. It is a whirlwind from start to finish, and the writing is on fire. Eddy's a womaniser, a bloodsucker, and a bit of a prick, and it makes for great chemistry when he meets Xenia, a magical rock chick who knows his game and isn't afraid to kill the bastard if he tries anything...well, anything else, once he's already gotten a little over-tingly towards her. But when Eddy faces the reality he's ignored since he got gnawed on by his sire, that he's not now the only neck-eater on the planet, he realises that this strange young woman, who could immediately destroy him with bottled sunlight she carries, might be the only one who can help save him from his own kind. Also, because he doesn't actually have any friends.

Eddy's firmly in the top ranking of my all-time favourite novel characters. He leaps off the page - thankfully not into my neck, though he doesn't kill anyone anymore, living at least - and he's a fabulous mess of his own history and quiet penance. We see not only his current state of undead affairs, where he's pretending to be his own great-uncle using his undead mojo, but delve into his past where, prior to vamping out and after WWII, he worked in the grotty underbelly of Vegas doing dirty deeds for its mafia. The problem was that he was really good at it. And he got really, ruthlessly, too into it. Watching his rise in the mafia ranks, but his subsequent fall through his own psychological breakdown was brilliant. Horrific, but brilliant, and gave a really nice contrast to the bit of a dick Eddy had still turned out to be, albeit a more amenable one. At least one that could be rooted for to win the day. Or the night.

Xenia, essentially his total opposite, finds her world twisted and turned after being almost hit on by the creep casino owner. She only wanted to see a gig and do a bit of gambling. Now she's suckered into helping save the population of Clandestine who live in the secret, but stylish, hidey-holes of Vegas, whose lives are now being threatened by this invading force of crazy uber-vamp Rebecca and her weird entourage. And she has to deal with this outdated bloodsucker with foot-in-mouth syndrome. Unwittingly, she takes Eddy so far in the unrooting of otherwordly lore, then high-tails it out of there.

There's a great cast of strange folk amid this supernatural Vegas, and are all as odd and wonderful, good and bad, as required for a paranormal, semi-historical romp. Though this is a definitively adult story, not a floaty, sparkly vampire love-fest. There are dark themes and some viciously disturbing stuff that goes on, all fabulously executed, but also not so much it takes away all the fun of a vamp-fantasy. The rocky, burgeoning friendship between the outdated predator and unwilling sidekick was some of my favourite stuff, and though we got some sense that Xenia's life isn't all wine and roses, a firm focus was kept on Eddy as our protagonist. They found a strange equilibrium, and a genuine fondness for each other's opposing qualities, to the point that in the future they may make a formidable team against whatever the underworld throws out next.

Very very excited indeed to see the next instalment!


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