Tessa Van Doren is a vampire. Nearly a century ago in Shanghai, she lost a lover to his opium addiction. His death led her to become a vigilante, targeting the drug dealers, rapists and child molesters who prey on the world. In the present day, she owns Night Flight, one of the hottest night clubs in Manhattan. The club caters to the rich and beautiful people, but also lures the very lowlifes she hunts after dark.
Detective Tony Flynn believes Tessa is running a crooked club. A number of disreputable types connected to Night Flight Club have turned up dead. His investigation brings him close to the woman herself. There’s a clear attraction between them, though he naturally doesn’t know the truth about who and what she is. Meanwhile, they each begin to investigate a new designer drug hitting the streets. The drug is called Shanghai Red, a name Tessa believes is far too coincidental not to be related to her past. Years ago, the evil vampire who sired her was believed killed in a fire. Now Tessa believes he’s back, and is coming after her.
This is a tough-minded, gritty story set in a dark and violent world. Not all readers may be comfortable with it. The characters are all damaged people. One of Tessa’s contacts is an agoraphobic computer hacker who never leaves his apartment. He and his twin brother escaped from an abusive father, only to have his brother die of a drug addiction. She also deals with a vampire hunter who went insane after his wife and young daughter were killed by vampires (a scene the author shows us in heartbreaking detail). Flynn has seen his share of the dark side of humanity, and some of the stories he shares are not pretty.
This is not light-hearted material by any means. The subject matter may not be for everyone. But while it certainly hit some downbeat notes, I didn’t find it depressing as a whole. It’s fast paced and fascinating, a quick read that’s never boring. The author keeps the action coming, despite some disjointed plot progression (more on that later). Tessa is a cool heroine, one with no qualms about exacting vengeance on society’s lowlifes. She has a very distinct code of honor. Unlike most of her fellow vampires, she doesn’t kill innocents. She only goes after the worst of the worst. There is some violence, though nothing I found too explicit.
Where the book falls short is in the character and plot development. Tessa is an intriguing character to read about, and the author relates a great deal of her history. Born in England, she later lived in China and Nazi Germany before relocating to her current hunting grounds in Manhattan. She’s lived a very interesting life and afterlife, and I enjoyed reading about it. But in the end, I felt like I knew a lot about her without knowing the woman herself. She’s kind of hollow. The author pays lip service to her motivations without really digging into the heart of the woman.
The plot also develops in an uneven fashion. The story never builds any real flow or momentum. There are some disjointed moments where it seems to lurch from one unconnected scene to the next. While the last Bombshell I read, A.K.A. Goddess, blended its flashbacks into the story, this book is less successful. Its flashbacks aren’t integrated well and often seem intrusive. There are other moments that seem to pop up and break the story’s flow. For instance, at one point, Tessa stops in the middle of a mission when she spots a young prostitute turning a trick for a middle aged suburbanite. Intuiting that the girl is far younger than she claims, Tessa steps in to save her, scaring off the john and reuniting the girl with her father. It’s a nice scene, but it’s also completely isolated from everything around it. It stops the plot dead in its tracks, completely ending whatever momentum the story had been building.
The story feels increasingly rushed as it heads into the homestretch, scenes flying by without much development or nuance. In the end, there were some elements that felt undernourished, and I had some questions that could have been taken care of if the latter stages of the story had been developed more.
Urban Legend is one of those books that’s fun while it lasts, a brisk, entertaining read that’s not likely to have much staying power. It’s just a little too fast and shallow. But if all you’re looking for is a fun ride, this one might do it for you.