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Monday, November 19, 2012

Review: Death Warmed Over--Dan Shamble, Zombie PI

Back in October, I read the first novel in the brand new comic horror series following zombie detective Dan Shamble, Death Warmed Over by Kevin J. Anderson.

Anderson is a best selling author of SF, mostly as part of shared worlds like Star Wars and Dune, and comic horror.  Click here for more.  So a new original series by Anderson piqued my interest, and then I read this plot summary from the publisher:
Ever since the Big Uneasy unleashed vampires, werewolves, and other undead denizens on the world, it’s been hell being a detective — especially for zombie P.I. Dan Chambeaux. Taking on the creepiest of cases in the Unnatural Quarter with a human lawyer for a partner and a ghost for a girlfriend, Chambeaux redefines “dead on arrival.” But just because he was murdered doesn’t mean he’d leave his clients in the lurch. Besides, zombies are so good at lurching. Now he’s back from the dead and back in business — with a caseload that’s downright unnatural. A resurrected mummy is suing the museum that put him on display. Two witches, victims of a curse gone terribly wrong, seek restitution from a publisher for not using “spell check” on its magical tomes. And he’s got to figure out a very personal question — Who killed him? For Dan Chambeaux, it’s all in a day’s work. (Still, does everybody have to call him “Shamble”?) Funny, fresh, and irresistible, this cadaverous caper puts the P.I. in R.I.P…. with a vengeance.
Now tell me how I could not immediately order this book?

The set up of the story tells you quite a bit about whether or not you would like this story.  Let me share a few details about the appeal though.

Death Warmed Over is first and foremost a noir, hardboiled PI novel.  Yes it is filled with the undead, but the tone, style, and frame is most firmly rooted in the work of the classic PI story-- think Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett.  These are stories of loners, slightly outside the bounds of normal society, who are always on the side of justice but don't always follow the rules as they solve the case.  There are also usually femme fatales who jeopardize the PI.  All of this holds true for Chambeaux.

If you love zombies but do not like hardboiled mystery novels, DO NOT READ this novel.  It is more tongue-in-cheek about the mystery genre than the horror genre.

That being said, the world Anderson creates is well fleshed out.  Through Dan, we are introduced to how the world works now that the dead can rise.  One of the details I liked is that if you were murdered you have a much higher probability of coming back as a zombie or ghost.  This keeps Chambeaux quite busy with cases to solve and his own murderer to find.  As good a job as Anderson does here though, don't read this book if you are not willing to buy into the world he has created.

The characters are a mix of well developed and comic relief.  Anderson gives meat to Dan, his human lawyer partner, and his ghost girl friend as well as a few other key characters.  And, it is important to point out that even though the book is full of amusing, stock, undead characters, they are all used in surprising ways.  You think you know what the vampire is going to do or how the zombie is going to react, but in Anderson's crazy satire, you are probably wrong. As a fan of horror, I appreciated the way he honored the tropes but also injected something new and unpredictable.

And yes, the entire book is told with tongue placed firmly in cheek.  It is a satire of both horror and mystery, but it is also a statement on human nature (and how it doesn't change much one you are not human anymore).  It is about greed and corruption, but love and justice too.  There were moments when you are caught up in the seriousness of the story and then all of the sudden you are laughing out loud.

Overall I had fun with this novel.  It had enough detail and twists in the mystery to keep me reading, the world was developed enough for me, and the characters were interesting.  That being said, by the end I was growing tired of the "wink-wink" jokes and just wanted to find out who dunnit.  As always happens with me and comic horror, I had fun to a point and then I was ready to move on.

The next Dan Shamble book comes out at the end of December.

Three Words to Describe This Book: hardboiled, undead, comic

Readalikes: This is the perfect series for people who like the humor and world building in the Sookie Stackhouse series.  With both series I love the set-up, the characters, and the humor, but I have enough before the individual novels end. I like these kind of stories in small bits and pieces spaced out over time.

Don't forget what I said above about Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett.  These are also excellent readalike options.

If you like the tone of Death Warmed Over you should also check out the various Blood Lite anthologies that Anderson has edited.

Also, click here to see a few of my other comic horror suggestions.

Finally, I am not sure why but the story reminded me of the Chew graphic novels.  Click here for details.  The Chew world is much more serious, but still has black humor and satire of Shamble's world.

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