The Deviant by Orren Merton

Heinrich Straus, an eight-hundred year old German vampire, is looking for a place to settle and Santo Paulo seems to have everything he needs: peace, quiet, and friendly people. But almost as soon as he arrives, a serial murderer embarks on a killing spree, and as the pale, leather-clad outsider, people look to Heinrich as the likely suspect...

With the proliferation of vampires in popular culture at the moment, it’s hard to know what book is really worth picking off the shelf or which film you should set aside time to watch. It was with this in mind that I began Orren Merton’s The Deviant, hoping it might have something different to contribute to the rapidly expanding vampire sub-genre.

A contemporary, urban account of the ‘outsider’ just trying to fit in, Merton’s premise doesn’t exactly ooze originality. But what it lacks in this department, it strives to make up for in others – to varying degrees of success.

Merton’s writing style is one of its successes, as there’s something about the steady, deliberate pace with which the tale unfolds that absorbs you completely into his story. Taking you on a minute by minute guide to Heinrich’s life, we’re made privy to his every conversation, gesture and thought no matter how mundane, as he discovers new love and life on the streets of Santo Paulo.

Ordinarily such detail would grate, slowing the book down and dragging it backwards, but here it only serves to envelop the reader further. This isn’t to say that the book couldn’t do with some serious editing – it could – but it articulates that Merton’s style is such that even the most mundane events can fascinate.

Unfortunately the author’s fluid storytelling cannot cover some of the novel’s more glaring issues – namely the plot. Although watching Heinrich’s tale unfold is far from unengaging, much of this is due to the inherent anticipation of where it’s all going. It doesn’t take long to figure out what’s going to happen, and when the serial killer’s identity is revealed, it’s of absolutely no consequence.

When reading The Deviant, I got the impression that Merton wanted it to be a character study of a being in turmoil, a being that belongs nowhere and who struggles to retain his sanity. Sadly this isn’t quite how it translates.

Heinrich possesses a demeanour that is polite, sensitive and completely transparent, establishing a disarming persona that holds little mystique yet somehow manages to come across as endearing. His short outbursts of violence are graphic and disturbing, keeping the novel from becoming too soft and its protagonist too sympathetic. Hope’s bubbly personality is convincing and believable, yet the couple’s relationship stimulates narrative direction and little else, as they lack any real chemistry.

On the whole, The Deviant feels just a little bit off balance. By the end of it, all the bits that should stick out in your head don’t, and all the bits you don’t expect to do. For example, the scene in which Heinrich tells Hope he’s a vampire is not particularly memorable, yet the couple’s first encounter at the library is.

Ultimately The Deviant falls down where holding fast is most needed. It contributes little to a well-worn genre and despite confidently constructed characters and an absorbing writing style, Merton’s narrative fails to satisfy, leaving you with the impression that he was trying to tell you something, you just don’t know what.

6/10 On the whole, The Deviant feels just a little bit off balance.

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