Book Review: Graveyard Shift by Michael F. Haspil
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Series: Book 1
Publisher: Tor (June 18, 2107)
Length: 352 pages
Graveyard Shift, pitched as paranormal urban fantasy meets hard-boiled mystery noir, landed on my radar earlier this year and immediately had me salivating at its potential. On top of genre staples like vampires and shapeshifters, this intriguing debut also features a millennia-old main character who used to be a pharaoh and mummy, and as far as selling points go, you just can’t get much more irresistible than that.
When the story begins, our aforementioned former pharaoh/mummy protagonist and Miami vice cop Detective Alex Romer has just been called upon to investigate the scene of grisly murder. It appears that the serial killer known as “Abraham” has struck again, dealing another vicious blow Nocturn-human relations. While vampires—or Nocturns, as they prefer to be called—have been integrated into society ever since their big reveal many years back, these incidents are proof that not everyone has been quite accepting of them. Anti-vampire attitudes have led to groups of vigilantes targeting and killing Nocturns, and worse, the police has also recently learned of a rash of incidents involving poisoned artificial blood drinks showing up on store shelves, sending whoever consumes them into an uncontrollable frenzy.
Now Alex and his partner, an ancient vampire named Marcus, are on the case, doing whatever it takes to sniff out new leads, from shaking down black market blood-dealers in back alleys to trying to infiltrate the shady blood clubs operated by the violent gangs. Meanwhile, paranormal crimes are at an all-time high across Miami, straining the already stressed resources at the special police department in charge of such matters, which is unfortunately leaving their detectives with little support in the field. Desperate to put an end to the chaos but quickly running out of time to do it, Alex and Marcus are forced to team up with dubious allies in order to save innocent lives and keep the city from tearing itself apart.
While it didn’t turn out to be as original or distinctive as I’d hoped, Graveyard Shift was still a lot of fun. Unfolding like your typical police procedural, the story might not be breaking any new ground, but author Michael F. Haspil does succeed in injecting some fresh elements into this equation, and foremost of them is his main protagonist Alex. Once known as the Pharaoh Menkaure, Alex has racked up quite a resume for dealing with supernatural incidents in the thousands of years since he’s been around. Even before he became a Miami detective tasked with investigating Nocturn-related crimes, he was a part of UMBRA, a top-secret government organization involved with the hunting down of any wayward blood drinkers. However, now that the existence of vampires has been revealed to the world, his job has become a lot more complicated and mired in bureaucracy.
Despite the cool factor behind Alex’s origins though, I do wish that we’d gotten a bit more character development and backstory. While he may have fulfilled all the expectations of a standard urban fantasy hero, few of his personality traits stood out to me in particular, and there was also nothing specific in the book that convinced me that we were following the perspective of an ancient Egyptian king, beyond what the text simply stated. On top of that, we were only given tiny and infrequent glimpses into his past, though to be fair, I suspect Haspil might have been vague on Alex’s history on purpose in order to save that story for a future installment. While I wish we’d gotten a fuller picture of his character, I can also understand why an author might want to hold on to some cards and not reveal them all too early.
The story was entertaining and its fast pace kept me on my toes. That said, there was also a lot going on, and sometimes the multiple plot threads had a way of straying from the main conflict. If you enjoy action and mystery though, this novel will have plenty to satisfy your thirst, and eventually everything will tie together and set up possibilities for the future.
All in all, Graveyard Shift is a debut that delivers a solid beginning, and the seeds of potential have been planted for this series to become a strong contender in the genre. The way the book ends leads me to think there will be a lot more to come and I look forward to seeing what’s next.