Vampires, LARP, Evangelical Counter-Cultists, Cult Cops and a Good Mystery Novel: A Short Note on Linda Grant's "Vampire Bytes"

by Massimo Introvigne

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Buy this book

"'But the scene is consistent with a Satanic cult,' Prizer objects. 'They drain the blood to use in future rituals.'

'Possibly,' Silva replies. 'But we don't have any examples of that. I know that some people believe it happens, but we haven't found any actual corpses'.

'That's because Satanists are so good in destroying or hiding the body, Prize says" (Linda Grant, Vampire Bytes: A Crime Novel with Catherine Sayler, New York: Scribner, 1998, p. 97; paperback edition: New York: Ivy Books, 1999).

This may be your usual cheap Evangelical novel on Satanic cults, but it isn't. In fact, the cult cops and the true believers in epidemics of Satanic crime turn out to be wrong, and the skeptics to be right. This would do for a very predictable plot, but there is much more. Vampire Bytes is a lively portrayal of both the Goth juvenile scene (real and virtual, on the Internet) and of LARPing, live action role-playing where role-playing games in the D&D style are acted out in the streets. Vampires are favorite characters in LARPing, and Catherine Sayler, Grant's private eye, realizes by the first pages of the novel that "tonight, all over the U.S., there are kids in black pretending to be vampires" (p. 15). Sayler (no pun on "Slayer" intended, since she showed up before in non-vampire related mystery novels by Grant) explores in depth this world in the Bay area, making interesting remarks in the process about the relationships between vampire LARPing, non-live-action versions of the same game (basically, Vampire: The Masquerade), and real life. Sayler is originally after the theft of the source code for a new vampire videogame, but soon she finds herself investigating murder, too.

Sayler, a no-nonsense detective, has some concerns of her own about kids taking too seriously LARPing and their vampire identities. This is, however, in another league when compared to the true believers, cult cops like Officer Prize and an Evangelical preacher, who think they are after a large Satanic conspiracy and spread the panic by publicly burning comics and paraphernalia. Not unexpectedly, the counter-cultists completely misunderstand the situation, and even unwittingly help the murder who is after a runaway girl who was given the source code from its murdered creator. When their strategy leads to no results, the counter-cultists blame Sayler and the skeptical detectives in the same police force, suspecting that both are Satanists in disguise. It is not that counter-cultists and cult cops are necessarily bad people. They act in good faith, but they have read the wrong books and attended the wrong seminars. In the end, they will even be able to recognize they were deadly wrong and apologize.

The moral lesson of the novel is that most Goth kids, LARPers and vampire buffs do not drink blood, are not Satanists and normally are not dangerous (some of them are, being on drugs and petty crime, but would have been dangerous even with no contact with the vampire-Goth subculture). Confusing juvenile fans of vampire comics and games with deadly Satanists turns out to be a bad mistake, and one all too common in the Evangelical counter-cult milieu. Grant does think that not all is healthy in the Goth subculture, but finds positive aspects, too (it is by identifying with her LARP character that the shy runaway girl finds the courage to confront the murderer). Grant's portrayal of the cult cops' and counter-cultists' misunderstanding of the vampire-Goth subculture is memorable. Real-life counter-cultists will probably not read the novel, but perhaps may consider reading an article by a fellow Evangelical counter-cultist, Dave Canfield, A Taste for Something Spooky: Adventure in the Goth Underground, which appeared in vol. 28, issue 116 of Cornerstone magazine (pp. 18-22). Canfield explores "the Goth/vampire connection" that he calls "sensationalized in the mainstream press" and finds that the Goth-vampire kids are normally not Satanists. Some even "happen to be Christian", as strange as this may seem. Although Canfield recognizes "a prominent place" to "Gothic sorrow and shadow" only "as way stations on the road toward Christ" and not "as endings", his reflection on what Goth kids may find in the vampire's coffin is brilliantly balanced (the more so, considering where the author comes from). "In such a coffin, he writes, a person's five senses are cut off so that only what comes from within remains. One is immersed in the darkness without any light, and by confronting this darkness is supposed to find meaning previously hidden from view. So it can sometimes seem with Goth; one searches for hidden beauty and meaning by intentionally focusing on the sorrowful, the lost, the dark." Beauty and meaning make, at least, for good novels. And Vampire Bytes deserves this title.

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