Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter (2010)
By: Julian on July 12, 2010  |  Comments ()  |  Share 
Cover Art
Cover Art
Author: Seth Grahame-Smith
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Pages: 336
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Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter, horror fan Seth Grahame-Smith's follow-up to the hilariously titled Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, is a fun bit of revisionism that rewrites one of history's most documented icons as a brutally efficient vampire killer. The premise is simple: Abraham Lincoln's diaries are uncovered but, because of a gag order placed on historians that eventually died with the generations, the Great Emancipator's achievements in the field of vampire hunting were left sadly unrecorded. That is, until the diaries fall into the hands of Grahame-Smith, whose devotes himself to committing the true story to paper for the first time.

Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter is divided into three parts: Boy, Vampire Hunter and President. In Boy, a young Abraham Lincoln crosses paths with Henry, a 'good' vampire (purists frustrated by the vampire's bastardisation by authors and filmmakers wishing to dismantle the good humans/bad vampires dichotomy will find a lot to complain about here) who, throughout Abe's life, sends him instructions – which may or may not be followed – pertaining to the location and identity of vampires who deserve to die. The event that precipitated this curious hobby (or career move, given Abe's vampire hunting was what compelled him to stand for public office) was the murder of his father at the hands of a vampire. Throughout Boy, Abe hones his craft, slicing and dicing (we're treated to an amusingly, if not altogether convincingly, Photoshopped image of Abe, axe in hand, standing over a slain vampire corpse) at Henry's behest and meeting some fellows along the way who ably assist.

Vampire Hunter charts the beginning of Abe's political aspirations, beginning with a losing attempt for election to the House of Representatives. It is in Vampire Hunter we discover that slaves are being kept by upper class Southerners (and some equally unscrupulous Yankees) as sacrificial lambs for vampires. Abe's hatred for vampires and the America that has accommodated them paved the way for his tireless abolitionist values and eventually catapulted him to the highest political office in America, with the Civil War and Abe's efforts to detach himself from Henry's 'tasks' all detailed in President.

Seth-Grahame Smith's book is consistent and compelling but it lacks dimension, with the plot, the characterisations and the work itself serving only the novel's one-trick premise. Some readers may feel that that statement is a touch churlish given the material: a rip-roaring vampire tale superimposed on the biography of an American political icon – clearly not a work played straight. Of course, those readers would be wrong.

My objections are two-fold. Upon merely reading the title and glancing at the cover of Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter, one would be correct in assuming that Grahame-Smith's main literary trick is the fish-out-of-water premise. In other words, go through the novel with a red crayon and cross out every instance of "Abraham Lincoln" and supplement it with "Julian" and the comedy is removed in its entirety. Grahame-Smith relies so heavily on this crude gimmick that Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter simply wouldn't work any other way, and it permits the writer to be indolent with regard to the development of any sort of humour bred independently of this central character. Indeed, any other attempts by Grahame-Smith as an author of prose (not just an author of concepts) to inject humour into the proceedings is lazy and, ultimately, one-tracked: it all surrounds Abe, positioning him as an axe-toting action hero. Chortle-chortle, but the model rapidly becomes tiresome and decidedly unfunny after 300-something pages.

The villains of Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter are also ineffectual and Grahame-Smith treats them with the same dismissiveness as he treats the rest of his characters (except maybe Abe). This is the novel's cardinal failing, because it is a source of a great missed opportunity: the wealthy slave traffickers operating to sate local vampires' hungers remain faceless throughout the book, yet they could have been a novel centrepiece for the story's third act. Compounding these problems is the virtual absence of a central villain. It's these issues that largely justify my earlier comment that Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter is a one-dimensional book: horror-comedy can be done well, but Grahame-Smith is too conscious of making this solely about the titular character that he ignores the key to any horror story – an antagonist, be it human, supernatural or imagined. The author certainly laid the groundwork for elaborating groups of antagonists (the slave traders and the vampires themselves) but when it came to the crunch, he was either unable or unwilling to do so.

It would be churlish to suggest that Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter is anything less than a highly readable and manifestly entertaining yarn. There are paragraphs during which Grahame-Smith's novel sparkles with a thick vein of darkly violent glee and, at this level, the book is a great success. Further, whilst Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter has problems at a fundamental conceptual level, the prose is written to a very high standard and the book is paced well, a testament to Grahame-Smith's talent as an author.

Grahame-Smith's second horror mash-up of classic material is well-written and great fun, but it's plagued by missed opportunities – the fact that they are missed opportunities, and not glaring oversights, make them all the more dismaying. Recommended, with some caution, as a bit of holiday reading.
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