Alex and Marcus are officers working the Graveyard Shift in the Miami-Dade Police Department Nocturn Affairs Division. “Nocturn” being the PC term for vampire after the reveal. They’re well qualified for the job. Marcus is an “Ancient,” a vampire so old he served as a governor in the Roman Empire. Alex is Menkaure, former pharaoh and resurrected mummy. After a slow start, things heat up as Alex and Marcus close in on the source of the spiked artificial blood appearing throughout the city, and the mummy and Haspil’s twist on werewolves helps make up for vampires that stick to well-trodden ground.
First, a little exposition, and then I will talk about what I didn’t like before talking about what I did.
As in, for instance, True Blood, there has been a “Reveal” of vampires as real following the development of artificial blood, and they have entered quasi-mainstream society after a population explosion. They are still frequently referred to as vampires, but the preferred term is “nocturne” and the usual slang term is “sanger.” Humans who seek out vampires to have their blood drained are called “bleeders.” The nocturns have superhuman strength and speed, as well as the ability to climb on walls and ceilings. Their invulnerabilities and vulnerabilities aren’t quite so pronounced as in other works. For example, sunlight doesn’t kill vampires, but it can severely burn them.
Nocturn Affairs equips officers to deal with vampire threats with things like garlic mace and stake guns and silver-plated shotgun slugs and ultraviolet-flash vests. Most of which sounds better in theory than when a vampire is ripping your throat out. Better the old reliable machete.
Drugs and alcohol don’t effect vampires directly, but vampires can become intoxicated by drinking the blood of a human under the influence. They also risk going into a blood frenzy.
Several vampires going into blood frenzies is part of what kicks off the events of Graveyard Shifts. A notorious vampire killer “Abraham” has also setup shop in Miami, Alex detects a new, malevolent presence in Miami, and humans are being abducted, tortured, and dismembered.
In Graveyard Shift, it is the skin-changers/werewolves—the PC term being “therian,” short for “therianthrope”—who are the apex predators, although they lack control. They also tend to be loners, in contrast with the more usual depiction these days. Alex, the mummy, is also a cool bit of worldbuilding, although I will avoid saying any more than that he gains power from the sun.
Given that, I expected more of a cat-and-mouse game between Alex, powerful by day, and vampires, powerful by night.
As I said, the vampire setup is pretty well-trodden ground, for the most part, most notably by True Blood (specifically, the show). Where True Blood drew obvious parallels with the gay rights movement, Graveyard Shift draws a line to immigration, and especially to refugees and asylees. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, for example, is responsible for tracking newly turned vampires.
Alex and his skin-changers are more interesting, and I would have liked more of the worldbuilding and exposition focused on them. But then again, they are more effective because Haspil holds things closer to the vest.
Graveyard Shift gets off to a slow start. Not only are there several threads that will eventually come together, Haspil utilizes multiple POVs. This not only slows things down but also sucks some of the wind out of the big mystery to the story. The amount of exposition provided by Haspil also slows the story down, and much of it frankly isn’t that interesting.
That being said, there is plenty to like here. Things heat up in the second half of the book, leading to a very effective—and bloody—climax. Haspil’s gritty police drama tone works for the story. I like Alex’s character a lot. He plays hard at being unassuming, but the old pharaoh comes out at times, like when he’s shouting “The insolence!” when an internal affairs officer has the temerity to question him. The bulk of the worldbuilding is pretty standard, but Haspil does some cool stuff at the edges and has a good grasp on, for example, the way government tends to react to crises. Hapsil has maybe the most interesting take I’ve read on how a moral vampire might deal with its nature. The most interesting thing about the vampires is the complexity of their politics, with shifting factions, secret societies, and machinations that take decades to come to fruition.
Overall, if you’re chomping at the bit for more vampires and more urban fantasy, you will probably enjoy Graveyard Shift. If not, you can safely pass.
3.5 of 5 Stars.
Disclosure: Tor Books sent me a review copy of Graveyard Shift.