Wicked Game – Jeri Smith-Ready

Wicked Game
Jeri Smith-Ready
Pocket Books, May 2008
384 pages

Branching into more fiction has been good for my sanity. It’s been a nice break from all the nonfic, especially denser texts that may take a while to process. I’m fortunate in that I’ve gotten some good selections, and the vampire novels that Simon and Schuster (who own Pocket Books) have been sending my way are among the best.

Jeri Smith-Ready’s Wicked Game is no exception to that. Set in a small town in the northeast, the story follows Ciara, a sometimes con artist, newbie assistant at a radio station, and well-seasoned skeptic. All’s well for about the first thirty pages–and then the bomb gets dropped. Those nighttime DJs? Vampires, all of them. Which is to be expected in a vampire novel. However, Smith-Ready creates an interpretation of the vampire that goes well beyond the black cape, bats, and Bela-wannabes. In the world of Wicked Game, vampires become locked into the time they were turned; Spencer, for example, has the slick ducktail and greaser style of a 1950s rocker, while Shane’s circa-1995 death keeps him in a perpetual state of Cobain-seque grunge. The music they play as DJs keeps them linked to both the past and present–but what about the future? After all, the radio station’s about to get sold to a major conglomerate, and somebody very important is very unhappy about the station’s latest ad campaign…

Interested yet? You should be. The plotline is incredibly fast-paced and well balanced. Smith-Ready is quite talented with first person voice, managing to give the reader enough background information while at the same time showing Ciara at her most public–and most private. In many novels there’s a tendency to lag at some point in the story. Not so here. This tale kept my interest all the way through, whether the moment was action-packed or sweet and silent.

The characterization is even stronger. Ciara starts with her temporally challenged vampires, adds in some extra quirks, and manages to make them quite likable. Smith-Ready works in minor details that remind the reader of what makes them vampires, and successfully blends these details into the rest of the story. However, they’re not so minor as to be insignificant. And she comes up with good reasons for them–she even manages a plausible theory on the garlic thing! The human characters are equally fleshed out, and she managed to not get me confused about who was who (which is a tougher feat than you might assume!)

What makes this novel really fun are the numerous musical references. It’s nice to see a vampire novel that doesn’t hinge entirely on Goth aesthetics to make it go, and this includes the choice of music. From 1940’s blues to contemporary pop-punk, Smith-Ready gives this book a virtual soundtrack that shows her knowledge and research of music, and a good ear for good listening. Music trivia geeks will find a few gems in here, and fans of various musicians mentioned may find some joy in shared fandom. (Plus I picked up a few extra CD ideas that I hadn’t heard of before–added bonus!)

Overall, this is a fun novel, and it definitely stands out from the crowd of Anne Rice wannabes. It’s a great choice for commute, plane trip, or curling up in a comfy chair for a few hours. Plus it’s a good enough story that it’s got plenty of re-read value. And there are enough hints towards a continuing story that I’m quite hopeful for a sequel–something I definitely encourage the author to do!

Five pawprints out of five.

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