Undead and Unwed
by MaryJanice Davidson
(Berkley, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-425-19485-X
***
Like a pair of Jimmy Choo sandals, this book has lots of style but not much substance. And, oh yeah – somebody forgot the romance.

Betsy Taylor is having a bad week, and the bad news doesn’t stop when she gets killed by a car while trying to rescue her ungrateful cat.

The next thing she knows, she’s wearing a tacky pink suit, bad makeup, cheap shoes and a coffin. Wondering why she’s only mostly dead, Betsy makes several attempts to finish the job. Finally, she goes to the rescue of a woman and young girl being molested by some punks in an alley and distracts the punks by daring them to kill her. During the ensuing struggle, Betsy is shocked to discover that she has superhuman strength and that the taste of blood makth fangs thprout in her mouth. Wait a minute – she’s not dead, she’s UNdead.

Betsy’s not pleased. She’s disgusted by the idea of drinking blood, her favorite human foods now make her retch, and she has a strange, hypnotic sexual power over men – and women – which turns out not to be as much fun as you might think.

Betsy rushes off to share the fact that she’s dead but not gone with her friends and family; some are delighted and some are less thrilled. Along the way, she also discovers that she isn’t quite like other vampires. She can tolerate the sun, she is not ruled by blood lust, and religious paraphernalia has no effect on her. Naturally, this makes her a subject of intense interest in the vampire community. Two powerful male vampires, a bad Bela Lugosi wannabe named Nostro and an undead hunk named Sinclair, immediately vie for her attention. Guess which one’s the ‘good’ guy?

The snappy energy and irreverent attitude make the first half of this book a lot of fun. Ms. Davidson has a good time capsizing the somewhat earnest conventions of vampire romance and I was happy to join the fun.

At about the halfway point, though, the book started to lose momentum. It was at about then that I noticed there was no romance on the horizon. I also noticed that the story wasn’t going much of anywhere. The author periodically introduces new situations for Betsy to react to, but since her reaction is always to complain and make a snotty wisecrack, the element of surprise pretty much disappeared.

This points up one of the dangers of writing a story in the first person. The narrator has to be fascinating enough to carry the story all on her own and Betsy has the emotional depth of a frustrated Chihuahua. After pages and pages of bitching about how hard it was to be Betsy, I was ready for her to change the record.

On top of that, everyone has a tendency to speak to the other characters. As. If. They. Were. Idiots. Which rather reinforces the impression that. They. Are.

The thing that really slowed the story down, though, was the fact that nothing was (if you’ll pardon the expression) at stake. What happens if Betsy refuses to take on the role of über-vamp? As far as I could tell, Nostro and Sinclair had been despising each other from a distance for a very long time. If there’s no queen of the vampires, the princes in waiting go back to their corners to conduct tacky ceremonies (Nostro) or have lots of sex (Sinclair). I’m not exactly on the edge of my seat about it.

Which brings us to Sinclair. There are about ten pages in this book that Ms. Davidson’s fans will generously insist make it a romance. For my money, however, Betsy and Sinclair don’t have a relationship. They do have sex, but not much of it, which was a bit of a surprise. At the end, there was also a serious question in my mind about whether Sinclair wanted Betsy because he was in love with her, or because he really liked the idea of being king of the vampires. Be still my heart.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s fun here – about 125 pages of it. Unfortunately there’s 255 pages of book.

-- Judi McKee


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