Series: MALLORY CAINE, ZOMBIE AT LAW
Plot Type: Romantic Horror
Ratings: V5; S2; H3
Publisher and Titles: Pinnacle
Pay Me in Flesh (2011)
The Year of Eating Dangerously (2012)
I Ate the Sheriff (8/2012)
BOOK 3: I Ate the Sheriff
Another subplot involves a new client: a werewolf named Steve Ravener who asks Mallory to represent him in a child custody case. When Mallory accepts his case, Steve almost immediately wants to get up close and personal with Mallory. Unfortunately, their budding relationship comes off as a stiff and artificial plot manipulation.
Two more subplots focus on Mallory's wild and crazy parents. One centers on Mallory's efforts to get her father out of jail. In book 2, Mallory was able to get Dad a mistrial, but the district attorney won't give up, so the second trial is pending. To review: Mallory's father decapitated a crooked zombie cop back in book 1 when the cop tried to kill Mallory. And then there's Mallory's drug-addicted mother, who is under the influence of a fraudulent religious guru who appears to be very interested in her money.
The main plot, which almost gets overshadowed by all of the other shenanigans, is the pending Satanic take-over of Los Angeles. The big players among the bad guys planning that event are the mayor, the sheriff, and Mallory's ex-boyfriend, Aaron Argula (the son of Lucifer), who still wants her either to become his hellish bride or leave town for good—either one will work for him. At one point, Aaron appeals to Mallory: "Listen, despite everything, despite the fact that I tried to kill you and control you by bringing you back as a zombie, despite all that, can we just bury the hatchet?" (pp. 59-60) What a sweet-talker!
All through this series, preposterous events take place and absurd characters show up—and this book is no exception. This time it's Pat Sajak, who turns up as the leader of a werewolf pack. Why Pat Sajak? Just for the silliness of it, I guess. After a series of trial scenes, werewolf attacks, literary allusions, and lots of snarky dialogue, Mallory finally faces down the mayor and his thuggish troops in an earthshaking climax with the help of her young friend Jaime, a gospel choir, a giant bat, an angel, a really friendly police detective, and a few good men (who happen to be prisoners she helped break out of jail)—and, most spectacularly, her own burgeoning powers.
I'm more convinced than ever that this whole series is an attempted parody of the urban fantasy genre. First, look at the definition of "parody": "An imitation of the style of a particular writer, artist, or genre with deliberate exaggeration for comic effect." Now, take a look at this series. The plots of these books are full of ripped-off elements of UF novels, but in each case, it's a bait-and-switch in which each purloined element is twisted and magnified to go for the biggest laughs. For example, the dead celebrities idea comes directly from Carole Nelson Douglas's DELILAH STREET series, but in that series, the celebrities' identities are closely tied to a particular time period that is key to the tone of the stories. In the MALLORY books, we get Pat Sajak, Cary Grant, and Darrin McGavin—all back from the dead and injected into the stories primarily for laughs, and little else. Just the idea of Pat Sajak as a werewolf sets off a giggle, but his involvement doesn't get much deeper than that. The concept of a quirky, supernatural sidekick is a UF staple, but, once again, Mallory's Kallikantzaros assistant, Nick, is there primarily to provide a few belly laughs, as is her winged helper, Max, who talks like a Borscht-Belt comedian from the 1950s. With the distortion of each of these UF elements, the author ratchets the weirdness aspect way up to points that are beyond preposterous—but which match the "parody" definition perfectly.
In the final analysis, I guess the question is this: Is the series worth reading? Pinnacle Publishing falsely labels the books as urban fantasy, and that is truly misleading. If you pick up this series looking for UF, you're out of luck; there is absolutely no dark, gritty urban realism—not one bit. If you're looking for an over-the-top spoof of UF with lots of laughs (alternating with graphic guts scenes), you may like the series. So...to sum it up, if you enjoy light and fluffy paranormal fiction with a sprinkling of gore and you're willing to overlook the nonsensical absurdity of the plots and characters, you may want to give it a try. Personally, I was turned off by the over-the-top attempts at misrepresentational mimicry in the guise of true urban fantasy.
Mallory's sidekick is Nikolas Papdoukis (Nick), who is a Kallikantzaros. Here is Mallory's explanation: "In Greek lore, the Kallikantzaroi are goblins who snatch children. A boy born during the Saturnalia is fated to turn into this creature during the Christmas season. But a quirk of timing—the exact ides of Saturnalia, to the second—apparently made Nick a Kallikantzaros permanently.....He looks like a knotty little gnome...but he has overcome his kid snatching ways....He calls himself a barometer because he can feel things of a spiritual nature going on in the city. It comes in handy." (Book 2, p. 17)
Mallory also has a guardian. His name is Max, and his spirit inhabits the body of an owl that has supposedly been watching over Mallory for many years. Mallory has mixed feelings about Max: "He says he's been watching me all my life—and fighting battles unseen. But he cannot give me more details. Some he knows, others he doesn't, but there's some sort of big cosmic chess game going on, and I'm a piece on the board. I reject that. If God is behind it, he can play the game without me." (Book 2, p. 79)
Each book contains sections that amount to diatribes against the sins of California in general and Los Angeles in particular. For example, in book 2, Mallory quotes chapter and verse from California law to support her summoning of the bodyless talking head of a long-dead, zombified mobster as an expert witness in a murder trial—a clear strike at the popular concept that California has more than its share of eccentric rules and regulations. Book 2 frequently segues away from the main story as the author gives us detailed case histories of various California crimes and criminals.
Although the scenes in which Mallory eats her daily brains are filled with gross and graphic details, the main story lines are far less violent. In fact, Mallory's scenes with her ex-boyfriend, Aaron, are actually romantic as he begs her to rekindle their relationship and tries to get her into bed. So...I'm labeling this "romantic horror."
One last thought: As I read these books, I kept wondering if the author wrote them as a parody of the urban fantasy genre. His creation of an ultra-feisty, indestructible, super-zombie, heart-of-gold heroine battling her way through hordes of off-the-wall-weird, evil-to-the-core demons just doesn't make sense to me in any kind of serious way. As I read the first two books, I recognized traces of people and creatures from other UF series—but amplified here into exaggerated caricatures. Maybe I'm wrong, but I can't quite ignore my instincts on this one—not just yet anyway. Give them a read and tell me what you think.