Okay, the title of this critique is an awful pun that only Irish readers will probably get, but vampires are abroad in Dublin, just off Patrick Street, as it happens. Is this opening going to suck an agent in? … (sorry, I’ll stop now …)
Title: Blood Ties
Language: British English
Synopsis: A woman with mysterious abilities arrives in Dublin to avenge her mother, but sees her plans hindered when she’s forced into a deal with the Head of the Vampire Council. It might take her closer to her goal but will she manage to swallow her pride and conceal her rage?
Levi could easily spot the unmarked detective’s car parked on a quiet corner of Patrick Street although the sirens were off as usual during this type of call. A young, uniformed policeman was leaning against the bonnet, staring distractedly at the spire of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral that pricked the cloudy night sky of Dublin.
As soon as Levi approached, the young Garda straightened up, hurrying away from the car. His eyes surveyed Levi in confusion, his mouth opening only to close again. The Garda was too young, and maybe not experienced enough to fully understand why Levi—apparently a civilian—had been called to a crime scene by his superior.
Levi had never seen the young man before, but his presence didn’t surprise him. Unwarned Garda trainees were the Liaison Unit’s first choice to make up for their lack of fully trained officers—trainees didn’t need to know every detail about the cases and were too wary to ask more questions than they should.
Levi didn’t introduce himself and his response to the Garda’s furrowed brows was only a diplomatic nod. Seconds later, an older policeman came from behind a building, waving. He was wearing plain clothes but a Garda badge peeked through his shirt pocket. Contrasting with his dark clothes, his light eyes were eerily sunken into his overworked face.
“Detective Inspector O’Neil… The Council has a lot of work at the moment so I hope this is important,” Levi said as he approached the man, pushing one side of his dark shoulder-length hair behind his ear.
“It’s past midnight, Levi. If it wasn’t important, I’d sure be sleeping.” O’Neill scratched his moustache before continuing. “I’m pretty sure you’ll want to see this but we don’t have much time before the forensics arrive. Follow me.”
The Garda entered a narrow lane, and even in the dark, Levi could see the body lying on the stone tiled floor, just as much as he could smell the blood that was pooling into a puddle. Levi bent down to look more closely at the bite marks on the victim’s neck, noticing right away it wasn’t a case of vampires accidentally killing someone while feeding—it was intentional, done with the precision of someone taught on how to kill. The bite had cut through several layers of tissue, and Levi was sure her neck was broken. The woman’s dark red lipstick was smeared, leaving a trail that ran down her right cheek, but it was her green eyes—still open and glazed—that drew Levi’s attention. Even though he was familiar with that kind of bleakness, his chest tightened at the sight of it. The woman couldn’t be more than 20 years old.
“This is the second death this week, Levi,” the Detective Inspector suddenly said, running his fingertips through his thin brown hair multiple times. “The Assistant Commissioner isn’t pleased about the situation if you know what I mean…”
“I thought you were the one heading the Garda’s Vampire Council Liaison Unit but your superior seems suddenly interested in the cases.”
“The Unit is still part of the Security and Intelligence Service. I owe them an explanation,” the Garda replied, and soon rephrased his statement, looking straight into Levi’s eyes. “We owe them an explanation.”
Levi ignored the Inspector’s subtle threat, bringing his whole attention back to the scene. His black eyes travelled from the bite mark to the pool of blood below the woman’s neck, but it was the ashy smell lingering in the air that puzzled him. Something was amiss and it intrigued him, even more, when his eyes found the blood splatters not too far from the victim’s body. A different pattern, a different smell. Vampire blood.
“Any leads on the vampire who’s done this?” Levi’s voice was business-like but he looked straight at O’Neill.
“That’s the most interesting part,” the Inspector said with a wry grin on his lips.
“What do you mean?” Levi’s eyes narrowed at the Inspector as he stood up.
The Garda sighed deeply before replying, taking his phone out of his back pocket. He clicked the screen a couple of times and turned it towards Levi.
“I got this CCTV recording half an hour ago.”
The footage showed the same cobblestone street they were on, but leaning on one of the cold walls a couple kissed warmly, the man pressing himself against the woman’s body. Only a few seconds later, the man in the video lowered his head toward the woman’s neck, who immediately began to struggle and squirm, her fingers tightly holding onto his jacket. The video had no sound, but Levi was sure she was screaming.
The footage continued until the girl fell limp on the ground, in the same position her body was lying at the moment. Levi restrained a sigh, pressing his nails against his palms.
“I don’t see the relevance of making me watch—” He began to speak but was cut short.
“Keep watching,” the Inspector said, harshly, pointing to the screen.
Levi’s lips were pressed into a thin line as he looked back at the video just in time to see a third person arriving. Dressed in all-black against the dark video background, it was difficult to distinguish anything more than a ghostly silhouette on the screen, walking nonchalantly beside the body lying on the ground. It didn’t take long for the vampire to act, grabbing the person by the arm and making them stumble and fall.
Levi’s thick eyebrows knitted together as questions passed through his mind. Did they have a witness who had escaped? Maybe another victim? He held his breath as the vampire set upon the fallen person, trying to reach for their neck. Levi expected to see one more murder happening before his eyes, but the vampire pulled away only a moment later, with his hands on his stomach and his knees on the floor. Blood was finding its way through his fingers, flowing non-stop from his belly.
Levi gaped as he watched the person rising from the ground with a knife in their hand. The next few seconds of the recording were a succession of blows towards the vampire as the blade lowered and lifted multiple times, glimmering in the dim light of the street. It was brutal and full of rage, and all the vampire could do was to raise his arms in an attempt to defend himself.
Not much to quibble about here. This is a straight-up genre novel, vampires in the modern day world. Exactly what genre probably needs a bit of thought, since I’m not sure that “crime/fantasy” is a known marketing niche. What is the compelling part of this manuscript? Is it the fantasy element, the horror element or the crime element? There’s a catch-all bucket genre called speculative fiction, but this, being dark and gritty and urban, might also be described as urban fantasy. Your first conversation with an agent should be what genre they see this fitting in, and how they think it would be marketed. I’m not an agent, in real life, so I can’t tell you what the current best marketing approach should be.
In terms of the question submissions to this site ask, would an agent ask to see more? My only potential quibble is that we don’t appear to start with the main character. It might be that the main character is the protagonist in the vampire slaying, so is, technically, present in the scene, but that’s a guess. It would be a little odd to start the book in a PoV other than that of the main character, unless you’re doing it for a specific reason. Your main challenge in the first few pages is normally to get the reader on board with the main character as fast as possible. Here, I’m not so sure. Is Levi also a main character? Why isn’t he mentioned in the synopsis? Is his PoV one with which we are expected to empathise?
It’s a quibble, not a showstopper, but the answer to the question might make the difference as to whether an agent takes you on or not, so a qualified “yes”.
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