Blood Vengeance is a ghost story mixed with a coming-of-age story, with a dash of police procedural added in a flashback near the climax. Like the protagonist, it didn’t know what it wanted to be when it grew up, and unfortunately, that necessary maturity will never come. There were hints of a horror story in there, with a few gratuitous gory bits and attempts at character development through peril, but not enough work was put in to weave them into a compelling narrative.
One of Blood Vengeance’s greatest failings is that its unimportant parts were vastly overwritten and the important parts got short shrift. Fans of tightly-written, intricately-plotted horror stories will be disappointed. An early example is when the protagonist, Brennan (referred alternately in the text as both Bren and Brennan, sometimes within the same paragraph), moves from his home in the Midwest to San Francisco and inexplicably travels by bus rather than airplane. Pages of bus-ride description that add nothing to either story or character are used to narrate this trip, and nothing further is made of it later in the narrative. Other notable examples include an absurd subplot involving Mexican gangsters; a strange lunchroom confrontation with a potential bully at Brennan’s new school; and the lengthy sections focusing on Andy, the building manager of the hotel in which Brennan lives. There was a great deal of filler and not enough meat.
What the novel lacked was intensity, a rising feeling of tension. The story’s living antagonist, Marc, wasn’t influential enough as a positive character in the beginning to make his later betrayal meaningful. Alienating and mysterious at first, he simply dwindled into an alcoholic, reclusive stupor until the end, when his terribly-executed plan came to fruition. Brennan’s final confrontation with the eponymous ghost had no real build-up to speak of, involving merely the recital of banal, library-researched facts about the ghost’s former life to vanquish it.
The characters were, unfortunately, little more than boxes that had to be checked. Brennan is a typical bullied kid; we know this because he’s violently assaulted by an athletic classmate in a supermarket for no reason (except to show us that he’s a bully magnet). At his new school, he immediately makes new friends of the other rejects, and instantly attracts the positive attention of one of the prettiest girls in school. Bullied: check. New friends who are bad influences: check. Hot new girlfriend: check. These things just have to happen; they’re inevitable.
To make the story work, certain characters had to do things that normal human beings simply wouldn’t do. For example, Brennan’s mother lets her only child go halfway across the country to live with “Uncle” Marc, a man she hadn’t seen or spoken to since he’d gotten her pregnant 17 years ago. He also happens to be a heavy drinker who lives in a hotel room bordering one of the seediest neighborhoods in San Francisco. She doesn’t even tell Brennan that his Uncle Marc is actually his father. What mother does that?
While technically competent in that the copyediting caught the majority of the typos, strained sentence structure, and grammatical errors, Blood Vengeance desperately needed more work before it went to print, and didn’t get it. That’s the true crime lurking in the pages of this book.