|Title: Dead Mann Walking
Author: Stefan Petrucha
Series: Hessius Mann #1
Cover Art: N/A
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Reviewed by: Julia
Kissing, references to prostitution, pedophilia, and multiple partner sex.
After Hessius Mann was convicted of his wife’s murder, suppressed evidence came to light and the verdict was overturned-too bad he was already executed. But thanks to the miracles of modern science Hessius was brought back to life. Sort of.
Now that he’s joined the ranks of Fort Hammer’s pulse-challenged population, Hessius attempts to make a living” as a private investigator. But when a missing persons case leads to a few zombies cut to pieces, Hessius starts thinking that someone’s giving him the run-around-and it’s not like he’s in any condition to make a quick getaway…
The word “noir” doesn’t even begin to capture the dark, gritty world of DEAD MANN WALKING. Hessius Mann is an undead Humphrey Bogart, battered and flawed and wry, and his relationships with the other lost souls in Fort Hammer are poignant moments in this mix of mystery and undeath.
Petrucha’s zombies, called “chakz” (mangled Spanish for “jerky”, as their bodies dry out), come back to life with lowered IQ’s, memory loss, and bodies that cannot heal beyond what Krazy Glue and stitches can hold together. They struggle not just against the betrayal of their own flesh but an almost complete lack of societal protection. Memory loss makes a chakz’s testimony inadmissible in court, assuming the police ever bother to show up, and chakz communities are under regular attack by roving bands of “livebloods” come to hack up the undead for weekend sport. It’s a novel twist to hide in the dark with zombies, afraid of the living coming to kill them, but Petrucha isn’t just flipping things around for kicks. The world he writes is grim and sad and heartbreaking, but also darkly compelling and comedic. The practical considerations of being the living dead are fascinating when viewed through the lens of Hessius Mann’s dark humor. Mann deals with the decline of his body with a steady resolve that says less about having hope than about him having already faced the worst the world can offer. What can they do, kill him again?
While not a romance, DEAD MANN WALKING could be considered a love story, a portrait of the best and worst humanity is capable of when faced with a vulnerable population that is mistrusted and reviled. For those who found the political dynamics of Nancy Holzner’s Deadtown series interesting, DEAD MANN WALKING offers a grittier, and in many ways more affecting, world where society struggles to find a place for loved ones returned. The mystery that animates Mann for the whole of this book swept me away, only for the ending to remind me that there is a bigger struggle looming over it all.