It’s hard to give a book a bad review when the book’s Author Relations Representative flatters you by requesting a pre-release book review.
It’s even harder to give a book a bad review when the book comes in the mail with a corresponding swag T-shirt, even if said T-shirt is an XXL and therefore unwearable.
It’s even harder to give a book a bad review when a percentage of book sales will be donated to the Children of the Night non-profit to help get kids and teens out of child prostitution.
It’s the hardest to give a book a bad review when the book is, underneath the grit, grime, and graphic dismemberment, actually pretty good.
So I won’t be giving Knuckle Supper a bad review. Not even close.
What You Get
Knuckle Supper is a story about gangs and drug addicts and drug-addicted gangs, only this time the gangs and drug-addicts are vampires who rove the streets of Los Angeles. Being vampires, they are each as dependent on blood as they are on their drugs, so a whole new complication is added to the averagely-complicated life of a junkie: finding people to kill and serve as human body bongs for heroin (or marijuana, or cocaine, etc., as each gang is defined).
RJ, our anti-hero, juggles a variety of extra complications as this story progresses:
- He is saddled with Bait, a 12-year-old prostitute that tagged along with a pimp he killed and who he decides to keep as his pseudo-minor
- He becomes the linchpin of a drug scheme under the nose of the powerful LA gang lord King Cobra
- He is eventually captured by a mysterious religious sect, which leads to a whole new world of torture, identity crises, and missions of vampiric destruction
Yes, Knuckle Supper is complicated. And yes, Knuckle Supper is a strong enough piece of work to [mostly] handle its complicated story line. That is the thing I liked most about it – that no plot point was left behind.
Explicit (in more ways than one) Writing
Knuckle Supper starts off with a bang – and by bang I mean stomach-turning violence, splattering guts, ripped-off arms, and an in-depth, detailed account of vomiting. There will never be a voice claiming Mr. Stepek is devoid of detail. It is truly, undeniably, the nastiest first chapter of a book I have ever read.*
The whole novel pitches and flows with outbursts of pure gross-out and preternatural horror, sparing no one: not children, not girls, not boys, not fellow vampires, not their dogs, not cops, not guys at the gym and their girlfriends.
A brief example:
I pinned the kid’s head down on a table and began feeding him his left hand… With his chin pinned like a vice, I used the top of his head to crush and chew through his fingers, digit by digit. And then, directly through his hand to the wrist.
“Please, God, stop,” the bastard begged, as he forced the pieces of himself out of his mouth.”
-Stepek, p. 136
It’s mostly a bloody free-for-all, except for the moments of Dexter-esque vigilantism RJ and gang tend employ on their hunt for drugs/blood. It’s a necessary move by Mr. Stepek to have created a murdering vampire with a heart, one who is self-righteous as well as self-deprecating, one who is a champion of mis-treated children and vinyl punk albums even though he is rarely sober. It is in these pages of empathetic, conscious-driven (if not hypocritical) RJ that Knuckle Supper can begin to shine as a novel: after a little while, the killing sprees and torture and weird bodily fluids Stepek excels at describing begin to all read the same.
3+ conflicts are hard to manage in 350 pages, and if Mr. Stepek is at fault for anything it’s that he didn’t realize that his initial conflict (RJ, a junkie and a gang member, babysitting a 12-year-old prostitute) was a perfectly successful one. It’s an interesting relationship and Bait gets into all sorts of trouble – most of it graphic and heart-wrenching. They gang doesn’t like her, RJ doesn’t like the gang, etc. It’s riveting.
Half-way through the novel, though, RJ is picked up (literally, by some religious schemers) and dropped in a brand new storyline, a loftier one than the original “family” story, one that questions RJ’s history and beliefs and mere existence. Stepek manages to tie them all together and Bait isn’t forgotten, but her presence becomes secondary. Which is too bad – you were just beginning to like her.
The second story (spoiler alert) is just as interesting and complicated as the first, with medicine and science and religion combining to create an almost-believable reality where steroids and prolonged incubation can, in fact, create blood-dependent “humans” who act like vampires. I re-immersed myself in the story after the abrupt shift, but found myself missing the more fantastic world where grungy, un-romantic, terrible vampires could exist. RJ & Co.’s ambiguous pasts were not questions I needed answered, even though the answer Stepek created wasn’t half bad.
Drew Stepek’s Knuckle Supper is available for purchase Tuesday, November 16. 10% of hardback sales and $1 from each digital download will go to Children of the Night.
Download Knuckle Supper on virtually any digital platform – seriously. There are a ton of them!
For more information on the book, author, press, etc. visit the official Knuckle Supper website.
*It should be noted that I am not, by nature, a reader of the horror or splatterpunk genres.