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WesternSFA
Dead Mann Running
by Stefan Petrucha
RoC, $7.99, 339pp
Release Date: September 4, 2012
Detective Hessius Mann isn’t half the man he used to be: he’s 60%, at least if you go by what’s left of his IQ and memory after being ‘ripped’ – that is, revived by “ChemBet’s patented, self-perpetuating, neo-magical, electrostatic Radical Invigoration Procedure” (p. 3). As told in Dead Mann Walking, Hessius had been framed for murder, sentenced, and executed. When his innocence was proved, post mortem, by evidence that conveniently did not come to light in time to do him any good, the promise of “Better living through chemistry” was made flesh, and Hessius was raised to the ranks of the living dead, with strictly curtailed rights. All those rights depend on his passing a mandatory monthly test of his human empathy score (cue the Blade Runner association); failing gets a zombie escorted to one of the gulags where zombies may last another few months before going hopelessly feral, and then get killed.

Hessius is trying real hard to hold onto his sense of humanity, aided by Misty, his fully human assistant. He’s determined to find the actual murderer for whose sins he died, but it’s a cold trail, and some days it’s hard to focus. Then a mysterious, hand-delivered, security-coded briefcase becomes the focus of much attention, especially once the rumor breaks that it contains the experimental cure for the zombie condition, and Mann is up and running.

At first his interest in the briefcase is academic at best, but then Misty is taken hostage, and good people get killed.

Telling any more of the plot would involve too many spoilers, so instead I’ll describe some of the characters, returning and new on the scene. There’s zombie TV talk show host Nell Parker and her billionaire sponsor Colby Green, who likes his lovers cool and pulseless. There are the many chakz undead, some living in neighborhoods as decomposed as their own bodies, some walking the streets, selling whatever they have left to sell, including a girl-child named Penny. There are men who remember what Mann has forgotten, and laugh at his ignorance-based impotence. There’s Travis Maruta, the R&D guy who invented the RIP serum in the first place, and Rebecca, his dominatrix partner. And certainly there’s Jonesey, the chak who would be the Martin Luther King of the undead.

There is so much quick action that plot-oriented readers will be thrilled; at the same time, readers who like the aesthetics of story-telling will find a feast, from the appetizers of neologisms and the heady wine of a film noir style narrative, with side dishes of foreshadowing and allusion, through to the main course of confrontational showdown.

After a couple of chapters I was wondering why warmbloods weren’t also required to take and pass a monthly humanity test; by the end of the book I was past wondering, I wanted to launch a campaign to demand it, except Solutions have a way of turning into the Next Big Problem. When you find out what has been done by whom, and why, you may find your brain simultaneously saluting the author for his evil genius while wanting to dissolve the villains in acid for theirs.

I trust there is more to come. We are brought to an arresting brink, and pushed over. What will happen next? No mention is made of a pending sequel, but my bet is that with all the flapping these stubborn characters will do on their way down, something interesting will evolve.

Petrucha’s writing is so assured, so literate, that I can’t help but wonder if this is a psueudonym for an established author venturing into the Urban Fantasy genre with a fresh name. The lack of a photograph might be construed as support for this hypothesis. But either way, Petrucha is a name I will look for in future. What can I say? He had me hooked with the epigraph. Anyone who can incorporate allusions to T.S. Eliot, Herman Hesse, and Thomas Mann so appositely in a zombie apocalypse setting has my undying admiration. ~~ Chris R. Paige

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