Welcome witches and warlocks,
Today I will be reviewing the zombie themed novel Braineater Jones (2013) by Stephen Kozeniewski. For a description I will turn to the author who described the book as:
"Braineater Jones wakes up face down in a swimming pool with no memory of his former life, how he died, or why he's now a zombie. With a smart-aleck severed head as a partner, Jones descends into a gritty, Prohibition-era urban jungle to solve his own murder."
Zombies are everywhere in media at the moment. Sometimes we get the doom and gloom zombies of The Walking Dead while other times we get more lighthearted fare such as Shaun of the Dead, but no matter which iteration, we seem to have a glut of zombies in our society. Recently, media outlets have started producing comics, shows, or movies like iZombie, Warm Bodies, and Revival which reimagine the undead in new ways in the hopes of setting their versions of the undead apart from the more tradition Romero version. This novel falls into that latter category as it changes the zombie rules by presenting us with a hero who talks, thinks, and craves liquor more than human flesh.
Our main character remains just as much a mystery to us as he is to himself so for a long time we too are left to try to put together the pieces. The amnesia device, which is often overused, is effective here and feels perfectly in place since we are dealing with someone who quite literally lost all brain function for a period of time. Add to that the first person narration and we, the audience, feel just as in the dark as our reanimated hero.
Granted, hero might be a bit of an overstatement in this specific instance as Jones spends the majority of the book either insulting those around him or inciting violence. Even with his character flaws, it is hard not to be on his side as we see him truly struggling to find out who he used to be and how he came to be numbered among the undead. His friendship with a still alive severed head only further helps to humanize him even when they are verbally sparring.
The dialogue itself feels like it stepped out of a dark alley onto the cross streets of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. One liners and ridiculously flowery descriptors practically ooze out of this novel in a fashion that would make Philip Marlowe proud. In a clever reversal of roles, most of the snappy dialogue comes not from our detective, but from the many shady characters that make up his world. I found Braineater's lack of quick wit (and realization after the fact of what he should have said) very amusing as it was a nice inversion of the typical gumshoe formula.
The humor helped a great deal to keep things moving along when the book started to feel formulaic. I have read a lot of classic noir novels in my time so I already had a decent idea of where this was headed as it follows many of the well-worn tropes. Luckily, the more typical aspects were easy to overlook as nearly every page had some new, outlandish joke.
All in all, this is a fun novel with an interesting noir vibe, a fair amount of laughs, and quite a few bodies (both dead-dead and undead). Fans of noir or horror tinged comedies are sure to get a kick out of this one and it is compact enough to serve as a good beach read for those who something different while they lay out on the sands.
- The Creeping Craig