Bad to the Bone, by Jeri Smith-Ready (Pocket Books, 2009)

Baltimore residents are all tuning in to WVMP. Not because of its fabulously eclectic range of music, but because of its hot, highly-publicized new gimmick: its DJs are all vampires, playing the music that was hot when they were mortal. ’40s blues, ’50s rockabilly, ’60s psychedelic rock, ’70s reggae, ’80s punk/Goth, and ’90s Generation X/grunge, all represented by bloodsucking creatures of the night. It’s a hell of an attention-getter, and the public eats it up with a spoon, keeping WVMP independent when the soul-crushing conglomerates are on the prowl for more stations to play their conformist crap. But it’s all just a gimmick … right?

Wrong. WVMP’s new marketing manager, ex-con artist Ciara Griffin, has gone Purloined Letter, relying on the public’s disbelief in the supernatural to hide her vampire allies in plain sight. So far, so good. The station’s doing fine, she’s taking business classes, and she’s even settling into a relationship with Shane, the ’90s-era DJ. Not bad for a girl who used to fear commitment, and always plan for a quick escape.

Unfortunately, not everything is copasetic. Religious nutjobs have erected a pirate radio transmitter of their own, solely to interfere with WVMP’s broadcasting, replacing ’80s vamp Regina’s show with Bible-thumping fire and brimstone. A reporter for Rolling Stone is looking for the perfect story, and he’s getting too close to the WVMP vampires for Ciara’s comfort. A vampire dog of unknown origin has adopted Ciara, and her landlord is anti-pets – who knows how he’ll feel about a dog that knocks down doors when it’s time for walkies? Oh, and an anti-vampire cult may be behind some of the above problems. Poor Ciara. Can she protect her vampire friends from discovery, keep the station on the air, maintain her romance with Shane, keep her blood in her veins where it belongs, and still keep her grades up? Here’s a hint:

“November 12. I get my ethics midterm back: an F+. My complete lack of morals is now on my permanent record.”

Once again, Jeri Smith-Ready really knows how to rock and roll, with her clever take on the vampire mythos. The idea that they’re mentally tied to the era in which they were originally alive, and the radio station allows these vampires to keep their sanity and stability, while hiding in plain sight? Awesome. You can’t ask for a better nighttime job than that of graveyard shift disc jockey. Letting a “reformed” con artist handle the station’s marketing and business affairs, and giving her free rein to pursue whatever wacky ideas will keep them afloat? More awesome. Dexter the giant, lovable vampire dog? Oh yeah. The set-up and execution lend themselves well to an entertaining, fast-paced, toothsome tale wrapped around an eclectic playlist of six decades’ worth of hot music.

It’s a measure of my fondness for, and my belief in, Ciara that I actually believe she’d have done just as well without the mysterious anti-holy vampire-healing qualities of her blood. She’s a great character, quick-witted and resourceful and clever, and she doesn’t need that little ‘extra’ to make her otherwise special. Now admittedly, those anti-holy qualities are a major plot point in several parts of the story, but part of me wishes she’d stayed normal. Well, as normal as a con artist-turned-college student-turned-marketing manager dating a grunge rock vampire gets.

That objection aside, and really, it’s a hollow one at best, I don’t have any real complaints. Smith-Ready has found her unique interpretation of a world where vampires exist in secret, where equally shadowy organizations work to either control/manage/protect or destroy/exploit them, and where music can save the day, and it works for me. So fire up your favorite playlist (or use Smith-Ready’s suggested playlist instead), kick back, and enjoy Bad to the Bone.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>