Book Review: The Suicide Motor Club by Christopher Buehlman
A review copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Series: Book 1
Publisher: Berkley (June 7, 2016)
Length: 368 pages
The Suicide Motor Club by Christopher Buehlman was actually pretty awesome. Know that the only reason I didn’t rate this book higher is because I’m very picky about vampire books, owing to their particular abundance in fantasy and horror fiction. In truth, as much as I enjoyed this, I think there are better vampire titles out there, including Buehlman’s own vampire novel that was published a couple years ago, The Lesser Dead. I still remember how I felt when I read that book, the sense of fear and dread that filled me when I first encountered the novel’s group of creepy vampire children roaming and hunting in the subways. I wanted badly to experience that again with The Suicide Motor Club, but in the end it just didn’t compare.
The Suicide Motor Club opens in 1967, following a family of three as they drive down a lonely stretch of highway. All of a sudden, another car comes speeding up towards them out of nowhere, overtaking the family, making a snatch at the little boy sitting in the back with his arm hanging out the open window. Just like that, Judith Lamb’s son Glendon was gone, yanked into the other vehicle, a hot rod Camaro occupied by its gleaming-eyed driver and his pale companion. However, before Judith and her husband Robert could catch up and rescue their boy, another car comes up behind them and rams them off the road, causing them to crash.
Robert Lamb dies in the hospital soon after, but Judith survives, heartbroken knowing that Glendon is also lost to her forever. She ends up joining a convent, but two years later when she is still a novice nun, a stranger named Wicklow comes seeking her, claiming to be the leader of a group called the Bereaved. They are hunters, and the targets they hunt are the creatures in those cars that took Judith’s son, killed her husband, and almost killed Judith herself: Vampires. Wicklow tells her about a band of them known as the Suicide Motor Club, who prey on their victims by targeting them on the road, deliberately causing deadly accidents so they can swoop in and feed on the survivors. Because of her past experiences and unique position as a nun, Wicklow believes that Judith can help them. Ultimately he convinces her to join the Bereaved, appealing as well to her intense desire for vengeance.
There are a couple reason why I didn’t think this one was as good as The Lesser Dead. First of all, it’s pretty hard to out-creep creepy vampire children. Creepy vampire children are like the pinnacle of creepiness. Even the sadistic founder of the Suicide Motor Club and his ilk could hardly match that. Second, I felt a distinct aversion for the kind of…unsubtlety that made up the action in this story, like scenes of car chases, horrific crashes, and deadly explosions, etc. To be fair, this is something I should have anticipated, considering that fast cars and highways are the central focus of this novel. If that kind of action strikes your fancy, then chances are you’ll love the hell out of this book. Personally I’m just not that into this kind of bombast, so for me many of the more “exciting” sequences fell flat.
I also enjoyed the characters, even given limited opportunity to really get to know any of them. There are a lot of characters involved, including minor appearances from incidental names and faces whose presence is mainly used to illustrate the destructiveness of the vampires as they make their deadly rampage along the country’s highways. It’s a common enough device (especially in many horror and thriller-suspense novels) but to me it felt like it was slightly overdone here, overshadowing the more important primary characters. I liked Judith, but at the same time I also felt a detachment to her cause. When you consider the main story without all its tangents, the plot is actually quite simple; and at the end of the day, Judith didn’t seem to have much control over her circumstances, nor did she have the means to really influence the direction of the story and the fate of all involved. Still, I don’t deny that I generally prefer more character-driven stories, so this is most likely just a matter of taste.
Lest I start to sound too negative though, I want to emphasize again that this is not a bad book, and I actually liked it a lot! Admittedly I have high expectations when it comes to Buehlman, since I loved the two other books I’ve read by him. It’s just hard not to make comparisons to them, especially since like The Lesser Dead, this newest novel also features vampires, and I’ve even heard somewhere that The Suicide Motor Club was meant to be a quasi-prequel. Knowing that he was tackling vampires as a subject again, I’d merely hoped that the story would be more original, or that there would be something more unique about these vampires. Everything ended up being fairly standard and predictable, but I definitely wouldn’t say I was disappointed either.
Frankly, when it comes down to the enjoyment factor, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this book. It might not be perfect, nor do I consider it Buehlman’s best, but he does some pretty neat things with the premise. The Suicide Motor Club also hasn’t changed my opinion of him as a talented author, who writes with such a bold, evocative style. Plus, it’s fast-paced, action-oriented, and it’ll keep you turning the pages. When you’re looking to escape with a thrilling horror novel, sometimes you just can’t ask for more.