Fevre Dream by George R.R. Martin. If you thought for a moment that Martin was a one trick pony when it came to producing works like A Game of Thrones, then I would point you to this novel. This is a decidedly different genre altogether but it reveals master story telling, pacing, and character development from start to finish. What made this work even more impressive is that it is billed as Martin's take on the classic vampire novel, but if this is a seemingly dry well, Martin finds quite a bit more water in its depths.
The story tells the tale of Mississippi River steamer captain Abner Marsh, a gruff, irascible, hulk of a man who had a few years where his Fevre River Packet Company was doing alright for itself, thank you very much. He owned and operated half a dozen paddle-wheelers that moved tons of cargo and thousands of passengers in stops from New Orleans up to St. Louis. Then one brutal winter, the river iced up something fierce and crushed the hulls of his prize ladies, sending them to the bottom. The bigger hurt for Abner Marsh was not the loss of his fleet and the hard financial times that he began to face, but it was being labeled as a cursed man and having his friends turn from him. Just when he was reaching his nadir, he was approached by a curious man who wanted to partner with him to build the finest steamboat the Big River had ever seen. This Joshua York offered to fund the construction of the ship if Marsh organized everything else associated with running the business. The only stipulation was that York would do curious things from time to time and Marsh was not allowed to question what he saw. Something in Joshua's bearing convinced Marsh to take a chance and the glorious Fevre Dream was built and moved into service.
For a time, Joshua and Marsh got along well, and Marsh began to feel like his failures were behind him. The Fevre Dream was everything that he had ever wanted or dared to dream. However, Joshua's behavior steadily became more and more curious to the point that it was affecting profits and the company's reputation. Marsh confronted Joshua and learned an unbelievable truth about a race of creature wholly other than humanity. Vampire. The very word evokes a living nightmare of undead creatures that live forever and prey on the blood of innocents. Yet there is good and evil in everything. Does one judge a lion for taking prey that it needs for life? Yes Joshua is a creature of the night, but there is a nobleness to his actions and his approach that ultimately wins the lifelong respect and admiration from a riverman who thought that he had seen everything.