Half-vampire, half-werewolf Siobhan Quinn survived her initiation into the world of demons and monsters. But staying alive as she becomes entangled in underworld politics might prove to be more difficult. When the daughter of a prominent necromancer vanishes, it’s up to Quinn to find the girl. But her search will land her directly in the middle of a struggle between competing forces searching for an ancient artifact of almost unimaginable power…
Demons, whorehouses, magical dildo macguffins, sideswipes at the rest of its subgenre… what’s not to like?
Caitlin R. Kiernan is best known for her dark, horror-skirting fictions like The Red Tree and the recent The Drowning Girl: A Memoir, beautiful, haunting, dark novels with unreliable narrators and a strong air of the Weird about them. The novels written under her open nom de plume Kathleen Tierney are similarly unreliably narrated, but with more of an air of the fatalistic and satiric about them.
Openly and explicitly in dialogue with the genraic tropes of urban fantasy, especially the Vampire Diaries/Anne Rice/Jim Butcher model, Tierney’s protagonist-narrator is a widely-educated high-school dropout, with a past as a heroin addict (something she keeps falling back on as a metaphor for vampirism), a healthy dose of fatalistic cynicism (or cynical fatalism?) and a brilliantly foul mouth. As our protagonist, Quinn is a fascinating study in contradictions; occasionally breaking the fourth wall, sometimes removing all narrative tension in order to emphasise that self-awareness. Further, the asides can be a little heavy-handed; the idea that a high-school dropout could be educated is overemphasised, as is the metaphor of addict for vampire. The reliance on these ideas gets a little wearing after a while, making what was a fresh narrative voice in Blood Oranges wear a little thin by the end of Red Delicious.
That isn’t to say that the novel isn’t full of fun, though. Whilst the time-filling action sequences, more-annoying-than-useful sideplots (especially the child-molesting demon-slaying rage-filled ex-Catholic priest…) get slow and dull over the course of the 270 pages, and the tail-chasing failings of Quinn as a detective… or a motivated protagonist… do slow the novel significantly. The amusements of the satirising of the Urban Fantasy genre and the silly-cum-darkly humourous magical dildo the novel centres on draw the reader through what is, by virtue of its writing style, a breezy read, with a complex structure of nestled stories; indeed, that is the single true narrative trick of the novel that really nails it.
The middle portion of the novel is a short story, The Maltese Unicorn. It, like the rest of the novel, has UF and pulp sensibilities, but is written in a sufficiently different style to differentiate it from the main bulk of Red Delicious. This piece of virtuosity only makes the flaws of the rest of the novel stand in a sharper contrast; however, hanging the novel around this centrepiece does work well as a narrative form, and I applaud both the ambition and the achievement it shows.
In the end, then, despite the dildos, the whorehouses, the swearing and the satire, Red Delicious is a frustrating, if fast, read. One can see what it’s trying to do, but it doesn’t quite, for this reader, manage it.