~by Bill Schutt
I've lately made a habit of checking my local public library's section devoted to new books every time I visit. By doing so, I've come across quite a few books piquing my interest that I probably wouldn't have heard of otherwise. Dark Banquet: Blood and the Curious Lives of Blood-Feeding Creatures by Bill Schutt was one of these books, appealing to the more macabre side of my nature and reading pursuits.
In addition to a prologue and the expected end materials for a non-fiction work (notes, bibliography, index, etc.), the book consists of three parts. "No Country for Old Chickens" explores Schutt's speciality, vampire bats. "Let It Bleed" is a short history of the practice of medicinal bloodletting and leeches. And, finally, "Bed Bug & Beyond" looks at bed bugs, ticks, and other small nasties. The author even manages to cover the bloodsucking candirú, a tiny South American catfish, and briefly mentions "vampire finches" in passing.
Delightful illustrations by artist Patricia J. Wynne are peppered throughout the text. In fact, the illustration of a vampire bat cozily tucked under the body of a roosting hen while a chick nestles up asleep is one of the reasons that led to my decision to bring Dark Banquet home with me. Certainly the book would have something to say about such a bizarre scenario (and it does). Unfortunately, none of the illustrations are captioned, and although they are usually placed near the related section of the book, it is sometimes difficult to determine and understand what exactly they are meant to portray.
I knew that this book was aimed at the general reader when I picked it up and that it is not meant to be the definitive and authoritative scientific text on the subject. However, I found it immensely disappointing and worrisome when on two different occasions, when I had taken a particular interest in a point that was being discussed, the information was neither specifically cited nor was a source given. For me, this calls into question the general validity of the book , especially when dealing with subjects outside of the author's area of expertise (although Schutt does have decent credentials).
Overall, the book was accessible, but Schutt tried a bit too hard to be cute and clever in his style of writing. I did find the subject very interesting, and the author did do a nice job of separating myths and legends from the realities of nature's vampires. Sanguivores don't live a very easy life, and it is only made worse by fear and misunderstanding on the part of humans, especially in the case of vampire bats. All of these creatures are fascinating and are worthy of study. Hopefully, this book will help to raise awareness of them.