Since I started writing book reviews for Baseball America three years ago I’ve seen all kinds of pitches. We get e-mails from Big Six promo folks and personal pleas from authors who have struck out on their own. In early 2010 I received an e-mail from a small publisher called Chin Music Press about a book called Home, Away in which a star baseball player walks away from a $42 million contract to be the father his troubled teen son needs.
I said bring it on, because I’m always looking for a good baseball novel. But I’ll admit I had my doubts. An interesting premise can still go horribly wrong in the execution. Several days later, the book arrived in the mail. I was in the middle of reading something else, but scanned through the first few pages just to see what I was dealing with. Within minutes I was hooked. I finished it in about three days. Maybe less. And that’s with a baby in the house, which made reading time tough to come by.
Since then I’ve beaten the drum at every opportunity for Jeff Gillenkirk’s debut novel. Turns out he grew up not far from where I live now in Upstate New York, though he’s long since headed off to more exciting locales, including NYC, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco, where he lives now. We’ve become friendly, exchanging e-mails on a semi-regular basis. He was kind enough to blurb my forthcoming book. Yet, somehow, I missed the part where he wrote a second novel, called Pursuit of Darkness, until he mentioned it last week.
I’m sure if it had been about baseball he’d have worked it into the conversation much sooner. It’s about as far removed from Home, Away as he could get. It’s about vampires. Who run American politics. And it’s fantastic.
I ordered it Wednesday night and finished it Monday. (If not for a pesky cold that wore me down and cut back on my nighttime reading hours, I would certainly have finished it sooner.) Pursuit of Darkness won a special place in my reading history as the first book I actually read all the way through on my Kindle.
Gillenkirk, who served as a speechwriter in past lives for New York Governor Mario Cuomo and California Senator Barbara Boxer and has also worked as a political consultant, tapped into his wealth of Washington knowledge to set his new book. His lead character, Nate Hallberg, is a reporter for the Washington Post, who has grown weary of covering crime stories, particularly the one that won’t end about all the missing persons and dead bodies that wind up in a D.C. park. His career is revived when he’s assigned to write a profile on GOP strategist Jonathan Drees, who is so powerful he has a reputation for swaying presidential elections as far back as anyone can remember.
Turns out Drees’s reign dates back much further than that. He’s been a Washington insider for 200 years, one of many living dead who have been running our government nearly since it began. Hallberg faces some difficult decisions on how to expose this D.C. netherworld, learning enough over time to become dangerous to both them and himself.
Gillenkirk first started toying with the concept 15 years ago, when he sketched out a screenplay. When it didn’t sell it moved to the back burner, though he was intrigued enough by the role vampires could play in the world of politics, where their charisma and manipulative powers would be a natural fit, that he read as many vampire stories as he could find and watched every vampire movie Hollywood produced. He cites Blade as a particular influence, though there was plenty of room for the political themes there to be developed further than they were.
When he finally polished off the manuscript, he pursued the traditional publishing path, but couldn’t find an agent to champion it. Having gone through similar delays with Home, Away, he decided this time to go the self-publishing route. I’ll guess there are half a zillion vampire stories available in ebook format by now, many self-pubbed. I’ll also guess none of them are like this one.
If you enjoy the underworld of politics, check out Pursuit of Darkness. If you like fast-paced crime stories, check it out. If you just can’t get your fill of vampires, check it out. And when you’re done, if you haven’t read Home, Away yet, get on it.
To learn more, look up Gillenkirk’s new web site, www.pursuitofdarkness.com.