Turns out it?s not so easy to come up with a fresh vampire tale in 2010. After all, what could possibly be left to (ahem) sink one?s teeth into during a year that includes ongoing Twilight hysteria, True Blood, The Vampire Diaries, and Vampire Academy? Into the bloody and crowded fray comes The Radleys, by British novelist Matt Haig (possibly best known for 2008?s The Labrador Pact, a decidedly quirky retelling of Shakespeare?s Henry IV in which the characters were all turned into dogs).
Dr. Peter Radley, his wife, Helen, and their two teenage children, Rowan and Clara, appear to be an ordinary English family living a quiet suburban life — except that they?re a family of nonpracticing vampires (or, in the book?s AA-like speak, they?re following the rules of The Abstainer?s Handbook). Rowan and Clara aren?t even aware of what they are — or why they must always wear heavy sunblock — until the night Clara has a run-in with a local thug and nature overcomes nurture. With a body to dispose of, Peter must reach out to his estranged practicing-vampire brother, Will, who holds all manner of dark and dirty family secrets.
The Radleys is effortlessly sleek and witty, with clever references to past pop culture vampires like Miles Davis, Lord Byron, and Friedrich Nietzsche. It?s certainly not the author?s fault that many of our brains are muddled with conflicting knowledge of alternate vampire universes — the Cullens glitter prettily in daylight, but the Radleys get rashes; True Blood?s poor Bill and Eric have to sleep in coffins or underground, while the Vampire Diaries creatures seem to rarely snooze. It?s hard to keep it all straight, which doesn?t help the Radleys, charming as they are. Somewhere out there, we hope Anne Rice (not to mention Bram Stoker) is laughing. B+