I’m a big fan of Red Nose Studio. They often work with Tor Books, producing quirky little masterpieces of paper and wood and string to grace the covers of the publishing house’s offerings. But their covers for this set of vampiric murder mysteries by author Lavie Tidhar are on another level. The artwork is what initially drew me in; the murder mystery angle of the stories is what hooked me. This should surprise no one who’s followed my feed this summer. It is my current favorite genre. Vampires are my favorite monsters. It was a no brainer.
Vampires may be creatures of the night, but they also have rules — enigmatic and cryptic though they may be. Judge Dee is a vampire charged with enforcing these rules. Judge Dee does exactly what his name implies.
So I was a little disappointed to find that the mysteries were, unfortunately, mostly trivial and barely mysterious. But I very much got the sense that Tidhar wasn’t aiming to write showy whodunnits as much as he just wanted to have fun with the tropes and conventions of vampire stories — and he very clearly does. (My favorite gag: each and every single vampire prefacing the word “wine” with dramatic ellipses.)
These stories read very much like experiments in style, eschewing the often august, Gothic sensibilities associated with the elegant ghouls in favor of clever subversions and playful, outrageous scenarios. Which is totally fine — just not exactly what I expected.
Still, these stories are very much fun, and I particularly recommend it to fans of What We Do in the Shadows, as Jonathan, Judge Dee’s milquetoast human companion, reads like a cross between Guillermo, that show’s similarly long-suffering familiar, and Morty, the pushover from, you know, that other show. The titular character himself reads like an aloof Benedict Cumberbatch. Like I said: fun. You can read all three stories that have been released on Tor’s website. My favorite is “Judge Dee and the Poisoner of Montmartre,” mostly due to the brazen ludicrousness of its plot. (These stories have excellent grandiloquent titles, which I appreciate, naturally.)