The Cowboy & the Vampire
by Clark Hays and Kathleen McFall
(Llewellyn Publications, $12.95, PG-13/violence)
ISBN 1-56718-451-0
And now for something completely different...are you ready for Silhouette Special Edition meets Anne Rice? Bonanza meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer? Do a bit of sleuthing and find yourself a copy of The Cowboy and the Vampire, the most original, humorous and romantic novel I've read in 1999.

Tucker is your basic cowboy who lives a quiet life of ranchin' and drinkin' in LonePine, Wyoming. Well, maybe he has something most cowboys don't have - a budding long-distance romance with Lizzie Vaughan, a sharp New York City reporter. The two met when Lizzie visited LonePine to research a story about cowboys. They definitely have chemistry, but time and distance have left both unsure about the future of their relationship.

Back in the Big Apple, Lizzie's latest journalistic assignment is turning into a nightmare. Her piece on New Yorkers who think they are vampires has "too much information, not enough angle." Hoping to give her story a boost, she accepts an invitation to attend a "thoroughly diverting evening of vampiric delights." But she has no idea how this one action will lead to a series of bizarre events that will drastically change her entire life. She meets Julius, an odd but strangely magnetic gentleman who is hosting the event. Aghast, she watches as 20 willing volunteers are savagely sacrificed, their throats all slit. Julius promises that the victims are beginning rewarding new lives as vampires. Lizzie doesn't wait for explanations -- she runs as fast as she can, all the way back to LonePine, and into Tucker's surprised but open arms.

Welcome to the first 30 pages of the ultimate culture clash. Lizzie's problems have just begun, as Julius has no intention of letting her get away. She just happens to be the most important person to come along in 2,000 years of Vampire history, and Julius needs her to fulfill his ultimate plan to rule the world. But Julius hasn't reckoned on the loyalty, courage and ingenuity of the American cowboy. Tucker is mad as hell. Julius is going to have to kill him first, along with his Dad, his weapon-crazy friend Lenny and his loyal dog, Rex, before he will let the slimeball have his girlfriend.

I don't know if these authors wrote alternating chapters or collaborated on each. I don't know anything about them, except the little bit of information on the back cover: Clark Hays was a genuine cowboy and Kathleen McFall grew up on the East Coast. Together, they have crafted a piece of magic. Their version of vampire history and culture is intriguing and creative, as is the relationship vampires share with "Adamites." The vampires, from Julius' seductive consort Elita to his archenemy Lazarus (yes, the original Lazarus) are complex characters with fascinating quirks.

But it's Tucker and his fellow cowboys who make the book. Tucker is my kind of hero. Despite his no-nonsense approach to life, he takes each new shocking revelation in stride, never wavering in his devotion to Lizzie. He has a wonderfully authentic and utterly male relationship with his Dad, who loves him and worries about him but just can't manage to show it, as is evident from this phone conversation:

"Dad, it's me."
"Tucker, where the hell you been? I thought you was dead," he said.
"Well, I ain't, but it sure feels like it."
"Ribs still hurting you?"
"Naw, they're fine, but this little Vampire bitch stuck her hands down near through me."
"Did you find Lizzie?"
"Ain't you worried about me?"
"You're talking on the phone, ain't you?"
"Dad, Lizzie's a Vampire now. Only she's the Queen of the Vampires or some such thing."
"Well, she always did seem a little high strung."

Tucker has a similarly close but understated relationship with his dog. Only with Lizzie can Tucker show his true feelings. But what kind of future can they have together? Will they be saved by Lazarus, a vampire who has become addicted to tabloid newspapers and Hostess Ho-Ho's? How can they possibly survive Julius' evil plans?

The contrast between the garish world of the Undead and the simple life of the cowboy is mined for every bit of irony and sly humor. The Cowboy and the Vampire never takes itself too seriously, but it still manages to be extremely romantic and sweet, despite several graphically violent scenes. I was hesitant to award it 5-heart status because it is from such an obscure publisher, but it passed my 5-heart test: I read slower and slower as I neared its conclusion because I was reluctant to see it end. I hope that at least a few readers out there will be fortunate enough to find a copy of this unique novel.

--Susan Scribner

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