Lestat is back -- big time -- in "The Tale of the Body Thief." And it's a return that will keep readers turning pages from start to finish. Be prepared for sleepless nights and long lunch hours as Anne Rice takes us on another uncharted tour of vampire land.
This is the fourth in what has been termed the Vampire Chronicles, the first of which was "Interview With the Vampire" (1976), when readers were introduced to the vampire Lestat and his blood-imbibing cohorts. Reviews were glowing and set the stage for the next two installments, "The Vampire Lestat" and "The Queen of the Damned."
But even one unfamiliar with Ms. Rice's previous vampire books can jump right into "Body Thief." There are enough details to demystify Lestat's beginnings and identify recurring characters without disrupting the whirlwind, edge-of-the-seat plot.
The surprise with Ms. Rice's vampires is that you like them. She has created sympathetic people of the night by telling stories from their viewpoint, not from those of the victims. You become the stalker with Lestat, and somehow his killings are superficially excused because he only does away with vicious, murderous types.
We are fascinated, yet horrified, by this existence -- to kill at night and burrow deep undercover in the daytime, never to see the sun.
In "Body Thief," we understand the 200-year-old Lestat's desire to become human again, a desire so strong that it blinds him to the dangers he will face in a body switch with the devious robber Raglan James. How can he not see what this trickster will do to him? we agonize protectively. But even his mortal friend, David Talbot, and protege vampire Louis can't sway him.
In making his choice, Lestat delves into the metaphysical questions of good and evil and God and the devil. These are consistent themes in Ms. Rice's books, including two of her more recent, non-vampire novels, "The Mummy" and "The Witching Hour." In an interview with The Sun, Ms. Rice said, "All of my books are obsessed with what good and evil are. And how you cope with all the different seductions with which you're confronted in life."
Lestat's moment of truth comes after the body switch -- which is supposed to be temporary -- "I'd envisioned pleasure, a variety of pleasures -- eating, drinking, a woman in my bed, then a man. But none of what I'd experienced was even vaguely pleasurable so far."
He also is abandoned by the other vampires and must try to claim back his former self with his frustratingly bumbling human form. "I had found human life too hard," the desperate Lestat discovers as the experiment begins to take a permanent turn.
But it is when all seems right again that all becomes chillingly wrong again. In fact, Ms. Rice warns us in Chapter 32 that we may wish we had stopped reading. All of a sudden, vampires aren't so nice.
Ms. Loudermilk is an assistant features editor at The Sun.
Title: The Tale of the Body Thief
Author: Anne Rice
Length, price: 430 pages. $24.