Publication Date: February 22, 2011
Genre: Paranormal Romance
HE’S THE GOOD KIND OF VAMPIRE. SORT OF.
Buried in the Heartland is a town that no one enters or leaves. Graf McDonald somehow becomes its first visitor in more than five years and he was only looking for a good party. Unfortunately, Penance, Ohio, is not that place. And after having been isolated for so long, they do not like strangers at all.
Jessa’s the only one to even remotely trust him, and she’s desperate for the kind of protection that only a vampire like Graf can provide. Supplies are low, the locals are ornery for a sacrifice and there’s a monster more powerful than Graf lurking in the woods. New men are hard to come by in this lonesome town, and this handsome stranger might be Jessa’s only hope for salvation.
Even if she has to die first.
This was a weird one. Weirdly funny, creepy weird, but weird nonetheless. Take some parts of Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery, Stephen King’s The Mist, some Mayberry twisted through The Twilight Zone then toss in a vampire with a dark sense of humor and a bad sense of direction and you’ve got a slight bead on this story.
Graf is on his way to a party at his sire’s place in D.C. when he manages to get completely lost. Breaking into an abandoned gas station to find a map looked like a good idea until he was tackled by Jessa, who was running from “It,” a killer demon/monster that proceeded to tear the station down as the two of them ran away. There’s a description later in the book of It, but no matter how hard I try, I can’t help picturing It as a 15’ Godzilla smashed together with the arms of a giant half-melted Kewpie doll with an alligator head. I think it has dragon-like scales on it if you want to go ahead and add that to the mental image.
Jessa very, very reluctantly allows Graf to come home with her and is as unpleasant about it as she can be. She tells him about It randomly attacking and occasionally killing people in Penance and how no one’s been able to get in or out for five years. She’s suspicious about how Graf was able to stop and Graf is wondering if he’ll be able to eat her and get away with it. By this point already, Graf is killing me with his deadpan snark. Jessa, on the other hand, is just being really bitchy. Bitchier than me on a really bad day and that’s saying something.
After a three-way altercation with Jessa’s married boyfriend, she hauls him to the local diner-slash-town gathering spot the next day, desperate to dump him off on someone else and Graf’s sure he’s descended into Hillbilly Hell. Everyone’s either high on pot or drunk on moonshine, most are armed and there’s a general attitude of, “we don’t like strangers ‘round these parts.” Of course no one takes him and he ends up back with the surly Jessa. More dirty basement time and no food for Graf, since now everyone knows he’s staying with her and will suspect him if she turns up dead. He ends up learning about her reputation as the town tramp and that she’s been targeted by It more than once, which no one else has, although people in town think she’s lying about it to get attention. I think Graf suspects he’s growing a heart at this point.
When It comes after Jessa again, Graf attacks it to divert It’s attention away from her and ends up revealing that he’s a vampire to her. After an initial freakout on Jessa’s part, the two come to an agreement about better sleeping quarters, his providing her with protection, trading Graf’s stuff for supplies and Jessa luring some gullible townspeople to the house for a snack (his). After the dealing was done, they also started being nice to each other which is a mixed blessing. Jessa stops being such a crabby-pants but Graf is stuck in the good guy role now. He was much more delicious when his role was more ambiguous, even if it was only in his own head. His internal debate about who he could get away with eating always cracked me up.
Armintrout does a really terrific job setting the scene in Penance. There’s a whole lot of crazy going on, but there’s also a lot of desperation from being trapped in a place without groceries, gas or any other perishable things (the electricity and water have stayed on for some reason) and just being stuck with the same people for so long. Gradually the country-yokel humor dies out and the characters and town start looking more sinister. Is Graf about to be outed as a vampire? Is someone targeting Jessa as It Chow? Is it possible that some people have actually made it out of Penance alive and why won’t anyone talk about it?
There were so many questions to be answered in the story and well, so many went completely unanswered or at least made me tilt my head like Scooby and ask, “Ruh?” including the ending which was a combo of Graf-funny, romantic, insane villagers and came out of the blue. Almost nothing was done with the plot about the creation of It and several fairly important characters were rarely even on the page. Double-decker buses might have driven through the plot, but you know, I kept thinking plot, schmlot. I love this.
My Summary: I liked the concept of the creation of a mutant demon created to terrorize a small rural town trapped for years without anyone able to get in or out. I liked the concept of an arrogant vampire who doesn’t know how to work a GPS getting stuck out in the middle of nowhere, finding himself absolutely stuck in a backwoods nightmare. Beyond that, this is fun to read for no reason other than that it was delightfully weird and creepy and Graf is hilariously deadpan snarky. Some days, a sit-back-and-enjoy-the-ride book is the perfect thing.
My Rating: B+