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'All You Can Eat' takes a bite out of vampire cliches

"All You Can Eat" by Richard Harlan Miller avoids genre cliches while telling the story of a vampire living quietly in Spokane.
"All You Can Eat" by Richard Harlan Miller avoids genre cliches while telling the story of a vampire living quietly in Spokane.
Amazon.com, Gray Dog Press

'All You Can Eat' by Richard Harlan Miller

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In "All You Can Eat" by former Spokesman-Review editor Richard Harlan Miller, vampires don't sparkle or transform into bats. In fact, they're so ordinary in some ways that at one point the protagonist has a hard time convincing his love interest that he has what he insists on calling the Gift.

The vampires in "All You Can Eat" are faster and stronger than ordinary people, and they do prey upon the living, but for the most part they prefer to spend their time doing things like enjoying fine wines and watching their favorite television shows. They are about as far as possible to get from the vampires commonly seen in most recent fantasy and horror novels.

Miller's vampires aren't private detectives trying to atone for past sins by acting like superheroes, or mindless killers, or Byronesque figures who like to brood while posing near gargoyles. The two sympathetic vampires, Darius and his friend Luke, are basically just interesting foreigners who are still trying to adjust to contemporary American culture.

"All You Can Eat" was published by the Spokane-based Gray Dog Press. The product description on their website gives readers a pretty good idea of what Miller was trying to do with his novel.

According to Gray Dog Press, "All You Can Eat turns the vampire genre on its head as it explores leather bars and Mexican cantinas, online dating and Volkswagen repair, Nietzsche’s sex life and Abe Lincoln’s nose—and the undying struggle between hunger and morality."

That struggle with morality plays out in several different ways throughout the novel. On one end of the spectrum is Darius. He lives in a condo in downtown Spokane and meets women in Seattle through a dating website. Sometimes, he kills them. He follows many personal rules to help rationalize obtaining fresh blood that way and tries to pick women who were ill, or feeling suicidal or who wouldn't be missed by anyone as a way of minimizing the impact of what he does.

Darius sometimes feels genuine affection for the women he meets through the site. This leads to complications in his life as he falls for a nurse named Susan who intrigues him with her sharp wit and keen intelligence. Something about her sarcastic responses to his usual ploys makes him want to get to know her better instead of giving up on her and finding another potential victim.

On the other end of the spectrum is the book's villain Dimitri. Dimitri uses his vast resources to more or less traffic in human slaves under the guise of orphanages and other charitable organizations. He views mortals as nothing more than walking food sources. His latest scheme is to organize a huge outdoor music festival as a convenient way of having access to young, attractive victims. With help from his computer-savvy sidekick Tomas, he tricks a lot of young people into going to property he owns in Montana and then proceeds to begin preying on the ones who catch his eye.

Tomas and the other vampires in the novel fall somewhere in the middle between Darius and Dimitri. Some freely indulge in their desires to torture and kill people while Darius's friend Luke maintains a higher level of self-control that helps him seem like a likeable guy even though he sometimes does things like killing one of Dimitri's minions and stealing his Volkswagen Microbus. Luke doesn't seem like a villain so much as someone who sometimes has poor impulse control.

After Luke shows up in Spokane and tries to convince Darius to go to the festival with him, Dimitri blackmails them both into making the journey to his compound. He has been spying on Darius and Luke has drugs that he wants back in the stolen van. They decide that cooperating is the only way to get close enough to Dimitri to eliminate the threat he poses to them somehow.

At the same time, Susan is convinced by her friend Lacey to go to the festival to see a mutual friend's band play. Susan is not aware that vampires exist, so she doesn't realize her road trip is placing her right where Dimitri wants her. The stakes get raised for Darius (no pun intended) because Susan refuses to leave and she and Lacey get captured. Darius must decide between doing the expedient thing and following his heart and trying to rescue the woman he loves.

"All You Can Eat" doesn't turn the vampire genre on its head so much for the plot as for the exceptional dialogue and some of the digressions Miller makes along the way. He uses extended flashbacks in clever ways to reveal not only a tragedy in Darius's past, or more details about incidents involving Luke, but believable explanations for why his characters think the way they do. Seeing why the villains became so twisted, or learning why Susan has a hard time trusting men adds many subtle layers to the characters' personalities.

Miller also uses a very engaging style of witty banter for scenes with Darius and Luke. They are extremely comfortable around each other in the way that good friends are and they don't have to be doing anything in particular when they're together. This helps make their slightly odd conversations seem more like things real people might say.

It is also interesting to see scenes where they go out for a drink just because they feel like it and not because they're trying to tail one of Dimitri's minions or something. Even as they make their way toward their impending dooms, they can take the time to enjoy simple pleasures in a way that urban fantasy protagonists usually don't even try because they're too busy being obsessed with their goals and wearing cool overcoats.

One thing that is really great about "All You Can Eat" is that his vampires aren't ninja masters. They don't fight with katanas or carry unregistered firearms. The violence in the novel is sloppy in a way that totally makes sense. Why bother mastering kung fu when you're physically superior to most people? That sloppiness is also oddly humorous in a way that makes the book more entertaining. Miller has a gift for throwing weird, unexpected things into his action sequences that help make his book refreshingly different from what most people would expect from a vampire story.

"All You Can Eat" is available now from Gray Dog Press and Amazon. The print edition is also available in the greater Spokane area from retailers such as Auntie's Bookstore.