If you find yourself in need of some light holiday reading as you prepare to go on a cruise, you might want to skip this one.
The Baltic Charisma is the dictionary definition of a booze cruise, shuffling people on a journey in a swift 24 hours, giving them one short night to party, drink, cop off with entirely inappropriate people and maybe recover with a hair of the duty free. Unfortunately for those onboard the cruise this time, it also gives them one short night in the company of a vampiric mother and son duo, one of whom might just give in to the bloodlust before they reach their destination.
Interesting twist on the vampire novel this one, in that they behave much more like zombies. A cut or bite begins the transformation and if they're not killed off, either by a vampire hunter (there are none) or one of their fellow newborns while they're still alive enough to be tasty, they're going to be eating people rather quickly. Of course, on a cruise ship there aren't many places to run to, so it gets bloody.
This takes a nice approach in that it's told from multiple viewpoints. We've got Marianne, a woman travelling alone in an attempt to break out of her comfort zone. Albin and Lo are (adopted) cousins, both of who have problems with their parents. Dan is the lounge singer, an ex-Eurovision loser, and boy is he mad about it. Calle is an ex-employee, back on the cruise to propose to his boyfriend, and Pia is a current worker, one of the security guards on the cruise. Each of these has a different reaction to the ongoing bloodbath, and the following of each of them leads to a complex story.
The setting is half the fun with this. Having never been on a cruise, I speak from a place of perfect ignorance, but conversations I've had with someone who spent a bit too long working on one suggests that Strandberg has painted a very accurate picture. It's a relatively slow starting book, with a lot of time given to fleshing out life on the boat, both for the transient visitors (and their various desires) and the long suffering staff, who are mostly just trying to get through the day. Troubles on board are gone into in a lot of depth, and seeing how some of the more gritty aspects fit into a horror scenario is fun.
The horror is pretty well done, with some impressive gore as people get themselves torn apart, although in some moments it might drag on a little too long. Watching out for who dies and who doesn't is entertaining rather than tense, because there's enough characters that you don't mind losing a couple. There's also one or two plotlines that end up not really going anywhere, and that does reduce the interest level at a couple of spots. Overall though it's an enjoyable book, and I might have to have a look at something else Strandberg has done.