Licking Valley Coon Hunters Club, The

The Licking Valley Coon Hunters Club
Review by Cathy Krusberg, submitted on 02-May-2002

A version of this review appears in The Vampire's Crypt 25 (Spring 2002). The Vampire's Crypt web site is:

Brian A. Hopkins. The Licking Valley Coon Hunters Club. (A Martin Zolotow Mystery) Alma, Ark.: Yard Dog Press, 2000; trade paperback, 173 pp.; ISBN 1-893687-08-2; $9.50 + $2.00 PER ORDER shipping direct from Yard Dog Press, 710 W. Redbud Lane, Alma, AR 72921-7247.

There's no such thing as a typical vampire story, but even if there were, this couldn't be one. The vampires certainly don't fit that mold, and neither do the increasingly sticky situations into which Hopkins flings his hero, with the order of the day (or night) being action, suspense, and more action. Private detective Martin Zolotow has a weakness for maltreated women and a history of being called in to solve cases that have more than a touch of the weird. This combination gets him kidnapped by an unsavory character whose daughter has been kidnapped by an even more unsavory character -- one who is ostensibly associated with vampires. Zolotow takes the case only because his refusal will lead to a third unsavory character killing the woman he's just packed off to safety (he thought).

Being roughed up and kidnapped again finally gets Zolotow to an isolated hog farm where he at last encounters a couple of individuals who aren't on the side of any of his kidnappers: Kendra, a street-smart woman who's undergone some kidnapping herself, and Daryl Johnson, an Oklahoma University student with the book-learning and lab savvy to figure out what Jimmy McDevitt is doing with all that fancy equipment on a hog farm in the middle of nowhere. Whether Johnson, Zolotow, or Kendra will survive long enough for anyone else to appreciate that insight is a bigger conundrum.

Yes, the Licking Valley Coon Hunters do appear, and Zolotow, on top of all his other adventures, gets to participate in the wrong end of a coon hunt on the Oklahoma prairie, with a rattlesnake, a butter knife, a lamp cord, and a stock tank playing significant roles. If you want to find out what -- and how the Licking Valley Coon Hunters Club got its name -- you're just going to have to read the book.

As I mentioned before, the vampires aren't at all the conventional variety. There's room to argue about whether they are vampires, but sharp teeth, torn-out throats, and blood drinking are part of their science-based bid for immortality. So is a duct-taped cooler and a substance called telomerase. (Daryl Johnson gives a very cool disquisition on it, for those of you into the technical end of sf.)

The plot advances through more rapid-fire reversals than a game of bumper cars; whenever the cavalry seems to have arrived, you can be sure it means that Zolotow is about to be plunged into deeper, smellier doo-doo. (Sometimes in a literal sense. This is set mostly on a pig farm.) The violence -- even that wreaked on Zolotow himself -- generally lacks empathy-evoking immediacy thanks to the wry humor that is a staple of hard-boiled detective fiction. When we feel for Zolotow, it's not because he's once again had the stuffing beaten out of him but because of events in quiet interludes: flashbacks to his sessions with the police psychologist he has no intention of confiding in, and to those parts of his history he has no intention of sharing with her. And when we feel with him, it's because he's had enough and is taking matters into his own hands, if only until another spin of Fortune's wheel sends him ducking for cover.

Ed Bryant's back cover blurb calls the vampires "just lagniappe." In a story this eventful and fast-moving, maybe any single element is just lagniappe. Designer drugs, genetic engineering, failed romance (Daryl Johnson has wonderfully bad timing for wanting to impress a woman), a car chase, a firefight, a flash flood, country music, and so much lying and betrayal that Martin Zolotow deems it everyone's favorite pastime in that part of Oklahoma -- there's a little bit of everything (even washing clothes in the kitchen sink) in this action-packed tale of survival, strategy, and yes, even a few blood-drinking maybe-they-are vampires.

If you visit the Yard Dog Press web site, stick around to read about their other offerings: psychic vampires in The Host, Fright Eater, and Gang Approval by Selina Rosen, and other off-the-beaten-path titles, including Stories That Won't Make Your Parents Hurl (modern cautionary tales), The Folly of Assumption (a thin book of stories about fat people), and Bubbas of the Apocalypse (only good ol' boys are left to save the world).

The Mad Bibliographer

Fanged Films

Mexico, 1958
The Vampire's Coffin
USA, 1972

From the Library

As the 20th century evolved, rational man turned to science to explain mythology that had pervaded for thousands of years. How could a man be mistaken for a vampire? How could someone appear to have been the victim of a vampire attack? Science, in time, came back with answers that may surprise you.Anemia
A million fancies strike you when you hear the name: Nosferatu!N O S F E R A T Udoes not die!What do you expect of the first showing of this great work?Aren't you afraid? - Men must die. But legend has it that a vampire, Nosferatu, 'der Untote' (the Undead), lives on men's blood! You want to see a symphony of horror? You may expect more. Be careful. Nosferatu is not just fun, not something to be taken lightly. Once more: beware.- Publicity for Nosferatu in the German magazine Buhne und Film, 1922  

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