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Dead Mann Walking: A Hessius Mann Novel by Stefan Petrucha
Review by Drew Bittner
Roc Mass Market Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780451464217
Date: 04 October 2011 List Price $7.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Website / Show Official Info /

Hessius Mann was a cop, when he was breathing. Now he's a detective, and a zombie to boot. Evidence was found that overturned a guilty verdict in the murder of Mann's wife; unfortunately, it turned up after he'd been executed. Lucky for Hessius, science had an answer and he was reanimated.

And now he has a case that just might put him back in the grave.

In Dead Mann Walking by Stefan Petrucha, the titular hero has been reanimated by a process that awakens the dead--more or less. Hessius has big gaps in his memory, caused partly by a problem with making long-term memories (think Guy Pierce in Memento but not so extreme). He's a private eye now, with a rehabilitated crack whore for a receptionist, and he's landed a case: find a zombie within 24 hours.

Said zombie is Frank Boyle, who stands to inherit a fortune from his father's estate. According to Mann's instructions, there are likely to be killers on the zombie's trail as well, so he has to bring him in immediately if he wants to earn his paycheck.

But even for a zombie with memory problems, the story doesn't add up.

Going after Boyle in the company of a sleazy attorney named Turgeon, Mann makes his way to a zombie camp and survives a harrowing attack by zombie-mauling bikers. He meets Boyle and things seem to go well... until the next day, when a startling bit of news changes everything.

Boyle is dead and now Mann's only lead is the brain-damaged zombie kid who was Boyle's best pal. Can Mann find the truth, in this high stakes game? And how does this tie in to a string of attacks on zombies, and maybe even the murder of his own wife?

If he doesn't figure out this mystery, Mann might be headed right back to the grave.

Stefan Petrucha has summoned up a complex, engaging tale in Dead Mann Walking. The hero has serious problems to overcome, not the least of them being his faulty memory and physical limitations (such as a tendency to rot). Considering he's working a case that's all about zombies, however, those problems come with the territory.

Reanimated by a scientific process that the creators cannot undo, zombies like Mann aren't very numerous and can't create new zombies by biting, but that doesn't mean they aren't dangerous. There's always a chance of going feral--losing one's wits and becoming a mindless thing that has to be put down through decapitation. Mann exists with the specter of this madness looming over him, which adds a nice, nihilistic tone to his story.

Helping him are folks like Jonesey, a former self-help guru, and Ashby, the kid Boyle befriended, as well as his ex-crack addict secretary Misty. They stick by him as he tries to solve Boyle's case, which also involves the disappearance of Turgeon and a lonely expanse where crimes were certainly committed.

The hate crimes inflicted on the helpless undead also strike a nerve; it's easy to imagine such things happening and officials turning a blind eye to them. This dynamic produces some of the most effective moments in the story, reinforced by the isolation Mann himself feels in many places. In a world of the living, the undead can feel awfully lonely.

With a conclusion certain to please mystery lovers, Petrucha has a solid lead-off to a new series on his hands. Here's to further adventures, soon.

Recommended.

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