Beyond the Pale
by Savannah Russe
(Signet Eclipse, $6.99, R) ISBN 0-451-21564-8
Daphne Urban (nicknamed Daphy) is a 500-year-old vampire currently living in New York City. She thinks she’s keeping a low profile, but the United States government has found her out. Uncle Sam wants her! She is recruited as a spy for a high-security government agency. If she doesn’t agree, she’ll be terminated. Terminated means the classic stake through the heart –understandably not something she finds appealing.

Daphne, along with two other vampires, make up the Darkwing team. They are to report to J for their assignments. J is not pleased to be heading the team. He believes vampires to be evil, but he and Daphne feel an unwanted attraction to each other.

The target is Bonaventure, a Russian arms dealer who sells weapons to terrorists. Daphne’s cover is that she is cataloging theatrical artifacts for the National Park Service. She is supposed to pose as a go-between to facilitate a deal between Bonaventure and the owner of rare aboriginal art. The owner, Douglas Schneibel, does not actually intend to sell the objects. They possess a magic that cannot be allowed to fall into the hands of someone who might use them for evil.

Daphne senses she’s being followed. She is accosted by Darius della Chiesa. He identifies himself as being with a rival government agency and warns her against becoming involved with J and Bonaventure. Darius is a vampire hunter. He suspected she was a vampire, but her visit to a tanning salon convinces him otherwise. (A vampire would burn up on a tanning bed. What he doesn’t know is that Daphne has had an application of self-tanner.) Daphne and Darius are soon strongly attracted and make no effort to resist temptation.

Daphne agrees to aid Darius in entering Bonaventure’s apartment. The transaction with Bonaventure goes badly awry. Daphne has to save the world.

With the exception of the elegant Comte de Saint-Germain novels by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, vampire stories have never been my favorite. Blood, fangs, dark things going bump in the night – not usually my style, thank you very much. In the beginning of Beyond the Pale, I thought this one might be another exception.

In the opening section, narrator Daphne is confiding some of her personal history which includes a long dry spell between relationships. Her last lover was Lord Byron. No, he didn’t die of a fever – he died of a septic vampire bite! “Now that’s original,” I thought. Unfortunately, the English majors’ inside jokes can’t sustain the whole book. Before long the story line descends into a stock thriller plot with some hot sex scenes and intermittent reflections on how it’s not easy being a vampire.

The story line regains its footing near the end, but the flat middle keeps Beyond the Pale from receiving a rating greater than acceptable. It didn’t require a struggle for me to finish it, but it never quite fully engaged my interest.

Beyond the Pale is the first full-length fiction work by author Savannah Russe. The writing is more polished and assured than in some debut novels. Its strongest aspect is the sometimes clever dialogue. The verbal foreplay is generally more entertaining than the book’s multiple hot sex scenes.

I have one quibble about the text itself: in the book’s type font, the letters I and J are visually similar. For a speed reader this can be a major nuisance. A number of times I’d find myself having to go back and reread sections because I’d realize I’d misread the character’s name. Since it’s written in first-person point of view with the usual plethora of I’s, it’s too bad the author didn’t name the Darkwing team leader Q or W instead of J.

Beyond the Pale is the first installment in the Darkwing Chronicles series. There are two other vampire members of the Darkwing team, and Daphne’s future is left somewhat open-ended at the close of this book so there’s ample source material available. Readers who enjoy vampire stories may want to check out Beyond the Pale and the Darkwing Chronicles. And definitely check out the Comte de Saint-Germain!

--Lesley Dunlap

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