Review: Death Warmed Over by Kevin J. Anderson

Review: Death Warmed Over by Kevin J. AndersonDeath Warmed Over (Dan Shamble, Zombie PI, #1) by Kevin J. Anderson
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: urban fantasy
Series: Dan Shamble Zombie PI #1
Pages: 309
Published by Kensington on August 28th 2012
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

"A darkly funny, wonderfully original detective tale."--Kelley Armstrong
Single Dead Detective Seeks Clue
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.
"Wickedly funny, deviously twisted and enormously satisfying. This is a big juicy bite of zombie goodness. Two decaying thumbs up!"--Jonathan Maberry
"Anderson has become the literary equivalent of Quentin Tarantino in the fantasy adventure genre."--The Daily Rotation
"An unpredictable walk on the weird side. Prepare to be entertained." --Charlaine Harris

My Review:

After reading, and rolling on the floor laughing over the short story Eye of Newt in the Shadowed Souls collection, I just couldn’t resist diving into the rest of the series. And I’m glad I stopped resisting.

Death Warmed Over is the first book in the Dan Shamble, Zombie PI series, and it both sends up and inhabits the noir detective genre at the same time. This story sets up the series, and it does it in the classic in media res convention, where the action has already begun and it is up to our hero to bring us up to speed on all that action.

At this point in Dan’s life, and the life of his world, the “Big Uneasy” is ten years in the past. Adjustments have been made, although there is still plenty to be worked out.

Ten years ago, a bizarre and hopefully unique event occurred, where the planets were just in the right (or wrong) positions, and a virgin cut her finger over an original copy of the Necronomicon, resulting in an extreme rearrangement of the powers of the universe. Specifically, the dead came back to life. Or unlife as the case may be.

There were so many zombies rising from their graves, ghosts returning to their haunts, and vampires coming out of their coffins that even the monsters who had been hiding in plain sight for centuries (hello vampires! and werewolves) decided that it was time to show the world who, and what, they truly were.

Dan Chambeaux was making a decent living as a private investigator in the Unnatural Quarter when, as so often happens to noir-ish private eyes, he got a little too close to some seriously nasty truth, and somebody shot him. Right between the eyes.

In the old days, before the Big Uneasy, that would have been the end of the case. But things are different now. People in general have about a 1 in 75 chance of becoming zombies, but the odds are much more likely (let’s not get into better and worse) for murder victims, along with suicides. A few days after his funeral, Dan clawed his way out of his grave and went right back to work on his own case. Along with all the other cases still on his desk – including that of the murder of his girlfriend, who was now a ghost as well as his office manager.

So Dan, along with his ghost girlfriend Sheyenne and his human business partner Robin Deyer, are on the case. Actually several cases, as Robin is a lawyer with a soft spot for nearly lost causes and a mania for taking precedent setting cases in the fields of undead law.

As Dan always says, “the cases don’t solve themselves”. But while he is helping Robin with a werewolf divorce case and a mummy suing the museum that owns his sarcophagus for his freedom, he is also looking into the operations of a bigoted “Humans First” group while dodging the smarmy sales pitch of an persistent adman selling “necroceuticals” meant to spruce up the undead.

When all the cases, new and old, converge, Dan finds himself at the wrong end of a gun. Again. But this time he has everything to gain and much, much less to lose. After all, you can only die once.

Escape Rating A-: While Death Warmed Over isn’t quite the laugh riot that was Eye of Newt, I didn’t expect it to be. It does, however, retain a marvelous undercurrent of gallows humor that can sustain a series. I certainly intend to find out.

The concept of a newly undead detective investigating his own death has been done before, and even done before with an urban fantasy/noir detective. If you are curious about a vampire version, hunt for a copy of P.N. Elrod’s  Bloodlist. The setting is real-world Prohibition Chicago, and Jack Fleming is a much more hardened gumshoe than Dan Shamble, but the concept is definitely there.

Back to Dan Shamble…

Part of the fun of this series is the very well-done world-building. The author has taken our world and shaken it up in a whole lot of ways that are both funny and serious at the same time. People, it turns out, are still people, whether they are dead or alive or something in the middle. Working out ways for the monsters among us to coexist creates a lot of opportunity for both humor and social commentary.

There are also a lot of sly jokes centering around the horror genre and its convention. That the new publisher of spellbooks is Howard Phillips Publishing, and that their motto is, “We love our craft” is a joke that makes the reader smile if they get it, but if they don’t, it doesn’t stop the story from still being funny in the right spots.

A lot of this particular story revolves around the human desire to look better, smell better and generally buy into the cosmetics and pharmaceuticals industry in a way that probably hurts all of our wallets in the real world. It’s also an impulse that seems to transcend death, as all of the undead are just as interested in covering up that graveyard aroma as the rest of us are about the smell of sweat. But following the money isn’t enough to solve this case.

In the end, the story rises (or possibly falls, but not for this reader) on whether or not the reader likes Dan’s “voice”, because it is his story. It is told from his perspective, and it is first-person singular, so inside his head and with his running commentary. We only see what Dan sees, and we only know what Dan knows. As he’s only been a zombie for a month, he’s still learning how his new world works, and so are we.

And it’s one hell of a fun ride.

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