Graveyard Shift: Unusual protagonist brings new life to urban fantasy/horror tropes

Graveyard Shift by Michael F. Haspil horror book reviewsGraveyard Shift by Michael F. HaspilGraveyard Shift by Michael F. Haspil

With Graveyard Shift (2017), Michael F. Haspil’s debut novel, readers who enjoy a fair amount of horror and blood mixed into their urban fantasy are in for a rare treat: the primary protagonist is a reanimated mummy, though he’s certainly no bandage-wrapped, shambling thing. Rather, he’s a sophisticated and smooth-talking detective in the sun-drenched Miami-Dade metro area, and he takes protecting his city very seriously.

As Menkaure, he once strode along the banks of the mighty Nile, bending the backs of others to his will as easily as one bends a reed, before his eventual death and mummification. Much later, reanimated and rechristened Alex Romer, he slew vampires for the ultra-secret agency known as UMBRA; now, he walks the streets of Miami-Dade as part of the Nocturn Affairs unit, keeping the city safe from supernatural unrest. Alex’s longtime partner, Marcus Scaevola, is a former Roman governor and vampire Ancient, also currently in the employ of Nocturn Affairs after a career with UMBRA. Vampires — now mostly referred to as “nocturnes” — are public knowledge, ever since they made themselves known worldwide during The Reveal, and stay on the right side of the law by subsisting on artificial blood substitutes.

Michael F. Haspil

Michael F. Haspil

Alex is Haspil’s strongest character and, wisely, the one he puts most often in the driver’s seat: he’s set in his ways enough to have very firm (and generally negative) opinions on vampires and other supernatural creatures, but makes exceptions when individuals gain his attention in positive ways. Alex is a good cop and a keen investigator, but not so perfect as to completely avoid making costly mistakes. His interactions with Marcus display Haspil’s understanding of the elements that make a good cop-partnership work, and hint toward a shared history that I would love to see explored in further novels. Rhuna, a fascinating young woman with tremendous abilities and powers, adds an interesting perspective, though Haspil only seems to scratch the surface of who she is and what she can do here.

Haspil doesn’t skimp on the stress in Graveyard Shift; not only has the artificial blood supply become tainted, spurring any vampire who drinks a contaminated sample into a blood frenzy, but a notorious serial killer of vampires seems to have made his way from Europe to America, threatening the tenuous peace between humans and the vampire-run Lightbearer Society working to ameliorate nocturne-human relations. Moreover, there’s a black market for certain types of blood, both human and vampire, and the dealers are branching out into other verboten goods. There are mysteries piled upon mysteries here, and the small details of how plans are put into motion — as well as some dangling threads hinting at books-to-come — will keep readers guessing, even if the larger set-up might be a bit predictable if they’ve read a lot of vampire-centric urban fantasy.

With only a few days taking place from the first sentence to the last, that doesn’t leave much time for establishment of world-building. Haspil tells the reader that the Reveal changed the world and that the synthetic blood crisis takes the Miami-Dade metro area beyond the precipice of chaos and into full-blown riot, but by dropping the reader into a two-day narrative sprint without showing much of a build-up to that precipice, it’s difficult to have any context for the chaos or to fully understand just how bad things could get. The character work feels more shored-up than the world-building, though the vampires are about what you’d expect from reading modern urban fantasy/horror books; I will say that I’m intrigued by Haspil’s inclusion of therianthropes (shape-shifters beyond the usual werewolf-type) and the implications therein, and the very concept of a reanimated mummy working as a vice cop was both unexpected and put to good use.

I sincerely hope Graveyard Shift is the start of a new series or set of linked stand-alone novels; Haspil’s got a lot of interesting and original ideas at play here, and I’m curious to see where he might take them. Urban fantasy fans, in particular, will want to keep an eye out for this writer’s work.

Published July 18, 2017. Alex Menkaure, former pharaoh and mummy, and his vampire partner, Marcus, born in ancient Rome, are vice cops in a special Miami police unit. They fight to keep the streets safe from criminal vampires, shape-shifters, bootleg blood-dealers, and anti-vampire vigilantes. When poisoned artificial blood drives vampires to murder, the city threatens to tear itself apart. Only an unlikely alliance with former opponents can give Alex and Marcus a fighting chance against an ancient vampire conspiracy. If they succeed, they’ll be pariahs, hunted by everyone. If they fail, the result will be a race-war bloodier than any the world has ever seen.

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JANA NYMAN, with us since January 2015, is a freelance copy-editor who has lived all over the United States, but now makes her home in Colorado with her dog and a Wookiee. Jana was exposed to science fiction and fantasy at an early age, watching Star Wars and Star Trek movie marathons with her family and reading works by Robert Heinlein and Ray Bradbury WAY before she was old enough to understand them; thus began a lifelong fascination with what it means to be human. Jana enjoys reading all kinds of books, but her particular favorites are fairy- and folktales (old and new), fantasy involving dragons or other mythological beasties, contemporary science fiction, and superhero fiction. Some of her favorite authors are James Tiptree, Jr., Madeleine L'Engle, Ann Leckie, N.K. Jemisin, and Seanan McGuire.

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3 comments

  1. Alistair Everett /

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  2. I do the the idea of some quasi-immortal types stuck in beat-cop type jobs; and cop-buddy books are usually fun. Thanks for bringing this to my attention, Jana.

    • The reasoning behind why the immortal beings are stuck in beat-cop jobs is interesting (but I left it out because, you know, spoilers) and, should Haspil continue writing in this universe, it’ll be interesting to see how it all plays out. :)

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