A multi-layered novel with both highs and lows, Ian McKinney’s “Scouse Gothic” mingles vampirism and crime to solid effect.
The exposition of Ian McKinney’s Scouse Gothic: The Pool of Life…and Death is highly effective, detailing the daily life of vampire Melville and his tawdry existence in Liverpool.
An undead creature who has lived for centuries, Melville seems relatively at ease with his station in life; however, he is haunted by memories of both the city he loves and the many women from his past (plus, he’s got a dead body that he needs to get rid of, which doesn’t help to improve his mood). Fortunately for Melville, he meets a hardened woman who may have more in common with the vampire than he initially realizes — and it is through their unique, booze-fueled connection that McKinney’s novel really takes off.
While the presentation of a vampire who doesn’t abide by the “rules” established by Bram Stoker and other authors is nothing new, Melville stands apart from the undead pack with his wit, sarcasm, morose longing, and sharp dialogue. His partner in crime, Sheryl, is equally likable, the words rolling off her bitter tongue in a dialect that is both tough-as-nails and endearing. The scenes between these two characters are well-written, humorous and memorable, and they remain the most interesting parts of the book.
But Scouse Gothic is about more than just Melville and Sheryl, and in many ways this is a good thing; as the story moves into its later chapters, readers meet a hitman who (as all hitmen do) has a score to settle. The hitman is an instantly agreeable character, a rational and calm man who only wants his just desserts.
Other characters are peppered into the plot — including a man mourning his deceased wife and a talking pigeon named Frank — and the trick of McKinney’s novel is determining just how all these sub-plots are connected.
Here’s where the novel stumbles slightly. While there are clues, details, and plot-points that establish links between the characters, not all of these links are readily clear, turning the novel into more of a collection of short stories or even vignettes. While there is nothing wrong with such an approach, not all of the characters are an engaging as Melville or the hitman, making the latter half of the book not nearly as effective as the beginning.
While the talking pigeon certainly was a one-of-a-kind character, some readers might not feel that its presence gelled with the gritty realism of the novel as a whole. However, that’s not to say that the book simply falls apart near the middle and end; one section, about a grieving mother longing to avenge her son’s death, will grip the reader on both an emotional and visceral level.
One other gripe about the novel is the editing and proofreading. There are multiple grammatical and mechanical mistakes throughout Scouse Gothic, enough so that they distract from the overall reading experience, interrupting the flow of otherwise strong scenes.
McKinney has taken this vampiric universe and turned it into a trilogy (Scouse Gothic 2: Blood Brothers…and Sisters and Scouse Gothic 3: All You Need is…Blood?), and it is my hope that the author has taken more time to hone his craft in this regard. When a writer has the talent to create memorable characters, write lean and fast-paced dialogue, and merge both bloodshed and pathos, he or she should not weaken all those strengths with a lack of editing and correcting.
Ian McKinney’s “Scouse Gothic” is worth the read, especially for fans of vampire and crime fiction. The author has a keen eye for the city of Liverpool and a well-tuned ear for the dialogue of its citizens. That the novel features a humorous, almost playful edge in many of its chapters only adds to its unique appeal.