Monday, July 31, 2006


New Latino vampire novels make engaging reading

By Daniel Olivas

Ah, summer. A time to read novels that entertain but don't make you think too hard. Maybe something funny, with a bit of mystery, smart dialogue mixed in with romance. Oh, and if there's a vampire or two thrown in, so much the better.

Vampires? Yep. By mere coincidence, Mario Acevedo and Marta Acosta bring us their debut novels that are pure, unadulterated romps that include protagonists of the blood-sucking variety, each with its own brand of humor and page-turning excitement.

Acevedo's "The Nymphos of Rocky Flats" (Rayo, $13.95 paperback) is the more serious of the two because of the manner by which private investigator Felix Gomez becomes one of the living dead: "I don't like what Operation Iraqi Freedom has done to me. I went to the war a soldier; I came back a vampire." Back in the states, memories of the war weigh heavily on Gomez while making a living as a private investigator relying upon special contact lenses and plenty of sunblock to venture out in the daylight. Gomez outpaces humans with supernatural powers so that his P.I. prowess becomes almost legendary.

Gomez's successes lead to a lucrative job offered by his old college roommate who now is the assistant manager for environmental restoration at Rocky Flats, which had been a nuclear weapons plant. It seems that the Department of Energy needs to uncover the cause of an outbreak of nymphomania among female personnel at the plant. This setup allows Acevedo to take us on a wild ride delving into everything from lying warmongers and vengeful scientists to Homeland Security cover-ups and alien abduction.

Acosta's "Happy Hour at Casa Dracula" (Pocket Books, $13 paperback) centers on the wickedly snarky Milagro de los Santos, a single, sexy, Ivy League-educated, starving novelist. Milagro stumbles into an underworld of vampires when she attends a book party for a pretentious (and frustratingly successful) ex-boyfriend, Sebastian Beckett-Witherspoon. It turns out that vampires have also been watching Milagro's old flame but for different reasons: He might head an organization that doesn't fully appreciate vampires and their outsider culture. At the book party, Milagro "accidentally" gets bitten by a handsome vampire in attendance. She immediately craves bloody, raw beef and falls into a period of debilitating transformation.

The great fun of Acosta's novel is Milagro's sharp tongue and rather off-kilter turns of phrase: "My emotion hopped around like a frog in a blender, which is not as pleasant as it sounds." Or in describing the handsome vampire who bit her: "He had nice white teeth, but you'd expect that from a vampire, and dimples, which you wouldn't expect. It was probably a genetic trait to throw prey off guard." Milagro also has a penchant for fashion and bemoaning the single woman's plight -- a sort of Chicana Bridget Jones for the vampire set.

"The Nymphos of Rocky Flats" is a witty, fast-paced, detective tale that also manages to update vampire lore in clever and imaginative ways. And "Happy Hour at Casa Dracula" is a droll and highly engaging new addition to the growing "chica lit" bookshelf. Both paperbacks are compact enough so that they'll travel nicely together as you head off to enjoy a fun-filled summer vacation.

Just don't let the vampires bite.

[This review first appeared in the El Paso Times.]

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