It’s a very perceptive question Francis “Milkwood” Mace poses to his young friend, Malcolm Tanner. After all, the her in question is Lash, one of the few surviving members of an ancient bloodline and the vampire who turned Milkwood. But let’s back up for second…
Thirteen-year-old Malcolm (first introduced in Jay Ridler’s short story “Blood & Sawdust” in his collection, Knockouts) and his older brother make their meager living betting on the underground fight circuit. His brother’s in it strictly for the money, but Malcolm is a true fan who knows all the fighters. At least he thought he did.
That was until the night he saw Milkwood fight for the first time. Short, pudgy, with a face only a mother could love – and that’s before taking a beating – Milkwood was utterly annihilated in his fight, a human punching bag who absorbed an inhuman amount of punishment. Dragged out the back door of the fight club and left for dead, Malcolm figured he’d seen the first and last of Milkwood.
So imagine Malcolm’s surprise when only a few hours later he runs into a Milkwood who is not only conscious and vertical, but who looks like no one’s ever laid a finger on him, much less a beating of epic proportions. Malcolm begins to piece things together when he realizes he actually has seen Milkwood fight before, except it was as a masked character billed as Stretch Armstrong…who was also beat to hell and back. In fact, those in attendance that night four months ago were sure Stretch had suffered a broken neck.
Malcolm knows he’s dealing with something unusual, but it’s not until Milkwood dispatches in a particularly gruesome manner – one involving teeth and a throat – a thug trying to rough Malcolm up that Malcolm truly understands Milkwood’s secret. Far from being scared, Malcolm hatches a plan to use Milkwood’s vampiric strength and healing abilities to their advantage by having him enter a big fight tournament as a massive underdog, one they’ll bet everything on and make a small fortune. Which brings us back to Lash…
Turns out she’s being hunted by a nasty piece of work named Dizzy Colt, an eighteenth century demon, and wants to hire Milkwood as her bodyguard. Though not your everyday employment opportunity it still seems straightforward enough, that is until Malcolm realizes his mother’s disappearance five years ago is somehow tied into the whole mess, and that he’s not who he always thought he was.
Folks, as The Ridler said in his guest post yesterday, this is not your sister’s sparkly vampire story. Instead of going with the in vogue idea of vampires as sexy and seductive, Ridler has chosen to approach things from the opposite end of the spectrum, examining how an average – ugly – guy handles immortality. In doing so, Ridler draws on his knowledge and love of wrestling, underground fight clubs, comic books, and history (the man does have a Ph.D.) to give Milkwood a complicated but, ironically enough, mundane set of problems to deal with. He’s still running into the same guys who bullied him in high school, albeit with a slightly different outcome, and rifts with parents aren’t magically healed with immortality either.
Along the way Ridler peppers in an intriguing backstory for Lash and her family (there could be another book waiting to spring from that well), bringing an element of the supernatural to the table beyond what one would typically expect to find in a vampire tale. Combine that with some truly bone-crunching fight scenes, a colorful cast of supporting characters, and an epic final showdown and you’ve got a bloody recipe for success.
Blood & Sawdust is available for Kindle at Amazon.