Thursday, January 5, 2012
Bastard Reaction: Dead Mann Walking by Stefan Petrucha
Hessius Mann used to be a police detective, with a photographic memory, and anger issues. Now, he's simply a private detective with some memory issues to go along with his rotting skin. Dead Mann Walking is the first book in the Hessius Mann urban fantasy series by Stefan Petrucha, it was quite a cool novel.
A new technology was developed that enabled bringing back people from the dead, essentially making them zombies. Hessius Mann is one of these zombies, and he gets entangled in a serial killer's scheme of decapitating them, and also in an inheritance war between siblings, some that are alive and a zombie that is set to inherit everything. Problem is no one cares about zombies, so it's up to Mann to figure things out. Which is complicated, with people trying to kill him, particularly his former co-workers in the police who want to get revenge on him since they blame him for beating his wife to death. Of course, he's having memory problems; zombies are a bit forgetful.
Dead Mann Walking is a novel that I found to be highly amusing, mainly because the narrative has plenty of dry humor. Hessius Mann has a narrative style that is quite unique to me, reminds me a bit of Charlie Huston's Joe Pitts Casebooks. This is more evident in character interactions and on general atmosphere of novels coupled with the side characters. Mann in particular has an ability do some very interesting observations, which I personally find quite humorous. Often throwing some random phrase in the middle of paragraphs which seems out of place, but when you think a bit more on it things start making sense. Just love that kind of stuff.
The novel itself, though not a perfect comparison, comes off to me as a zombified Memento (you know the awesome movie with Guy Pearce with anterograde amnesia). Mann though also forgetting a lot of memories from his past, he has trouble retaining new memories. So he goes around with his voice recorder trying to get by, that is, when he remembers that he's carrying a recorder or where he has it stored. I find it to be a curious dynamic, when the character is chasing leads, then forgets about those leads, getting mislead by new evidence and unable to connect it with previous evidence he had collected.
Though highly enjoying the novel, it's not without it's flaws. It took me a bit to get into it; I thought the narrative had a bit too much exposition. This was balanced out with the interesting observations I mentioned before, but it made the plot progress a bit slower and the worldbuilding less organic. Also the mystery became predictable, though doing a great job in keeping things off balance early on, the reader should be capable of putting things together fairly easily. Mann's struggle to figure what's happening helps things out though, mainly because he has all he needs to figure things out, plus great instincts; he's simply handicapped.
In general, I'm not a fan of zombies, yet it seems like all I've done this year is read zombie books for one reason and another. Still, I found the zombies here to be really good. There are different types of zombies, with different levels of intelligence. Just a good variety within them, with different sort of problems they have to face, particularly one's that have experienced a traumatic past. Given that most of them seem to be people who seemingly have been wrongly executed (while they were really alive), then many of the zombies will be facing a lot of emotional distress. On the other hand, zombies have also an emotional detachment, they don't seem to feel, so it's a weird situation all told.
There's plenty to like here, particularly with the themes employed. Questions about the soul arise, what makes someone alive, questions about identity vs. your previous life's identity. A lot of social issues arise, and interestingly it might have some in common with the "Occupy" movement recently as well (don't quote me on this), as well with segregation and human rights. Also the cost of the quest towards immortality.
Quite an introspective novel also, as much as a zombie is capable of introspecting, but with a very curious ending which makes readers see Mann's experience through the novel in a new light as well as how he perceives the world, but more importantly himself. The novel is simply an exploration of Hessius Mann's world, both external and internally; society and self.
Also, if you say Hessius very fast it might sounds a bit like Jesus. Don't know, food for thought.
Stefan Petrucha's book is simply a winner. Though a bit disappointing mystery wise, it turns into an interesting thriller with an underlying abundance of concepts that will make the readers think beyond the scope of the novel. And just a lot of fun, with plenty of action, and my kind of humor. I recommend Dead Mann Walking to all urban fantasy fans, particularly one's interested in a different pace with a narrative voice that stands out from the norm.
Buy Dead Mann Walking from The Book Depository.
Please visit Stefan Petrucha's website.