Series: DAN SHAMBLE, ZOMBIE P.I.
Plot Type: Light Urban Fantasy (UF)
Ratings: Violence—4; Sensuality—2; Humor—3-4
Publisher and Titles: Kensington
Death Warmed Over (9/2012)
"Stakeout at the Vampire Circus" (e-novella, 10/2012)
Unnatural Acts (1/2013)
Hair Raising (4/2013)
"Naughty and Nice" (e-novella, 10/2013)
> Stentor: an ogre opera singer whose voice has been stolen—His name is Stentor because his voice is stentorian.
> Jody Caligari: a teenage junior mad scientist whose landlord has stolen his inventions—Jody claims to be "Dr. Darkness!!!—with three exclamation marks. Or I will be, as soon as I finish my homework." His goal is to become a rich and powerful supervillain (because girls like bad boys), but, as he explains, "I wouldn't have to be an evil supervillain."
gray skin and a white
instead of a chair)
Unfortunately, just as in the previous novel, much of the "humor" is as slimy as the book's title. Unfortunately, Anderson's efforts here just aren't funny or even very entertaining. Since much of the plot focuses on the (un)sanitary sewer system, we have plenty of stinky situations like this one: "The tunnels beneath the streets of the Quarter roiled and gurgled and resulted in citywide incontinence…Pipes thumped, gurgled, and regurgitated smelly brown effluent in runny staccato spurts." (p. 78) I admit that the "citywide incontinence" line is pretty funny, but it is the single high point in a swampy slew of attempts that are about as funny as a trough full of noxious waste.
As usual, there are lots of pop cultural references in characters' names and in some of the situational comedy scenes, some that work and more that don't. All in all, I have to say that this book is even weaker than the last: too many weird, one-note characters; too many repetitiously ridiculous (rather than entertainingly wacky) plot lines; too many excremental sewer scenes; and a complete absence of character development. Click HERE to go to this book's amazon.com page to read an excerpt. Just click on the cover art at the top of that page.
This book also contains a full-text bonus novella: "Stakeout at the Vampire Circus" (book 1.5 in this series), which is reviewed below (after the World-Building section and the review of book 1).
Instead of the French Quarter, natural (human) tourists in New Orleans stream into the Unnatural Quarter to get a look at the bizarre community of supernatural beings who live there. In this world, one in 75 dead people returns as a zombie, while one in 30 returns as a ghost. For unknown reasons, murder and suicide victims are more likely to return than those who die of natural or accidental causes.
After the Big Uneasy, new laws and regulations had to be put in place to handle a multitude of exigencies. For example,"New rules required quick-release latches on the insides of tombs..., so the undead can conveniently get back out. Some people were even buried with their cell phones, though I doubted they'd get good service from inside. Can you hear me now?" (Death Warmed Over, p. 5) New products were developed specifically for unnatural customers, including seasonings that make chicken "taste just like human," cosmetics to brighten up zombie-gray or vampire-pale skin, and deodorants to mask zombie-rot body odors.
Dan has always been self confidant in a naively arrogant sort of way, and death and zombification haven't changed that aspect of his personality: "Even undead, I remain as handsome as ever, with the exception of the [two] holes left by the bullet....Fortunately, a low-slouched fedora covers the big hole." (Death Warmed Over, p. 3) Dan has never acquired a taste for brains, and he's very careful about his personal hygiene, which can be a major problem for most zombies. Since Dan became a zombie, people have begun calling him "Shamble" instead of "Chambeaux." In fact, his business—Chambeaux & Deyer Investigations—has been nicknamed "Shamble & Die." Dan's partner is Robin Deyer, a young, soft-hearted, human attorney who is determined to provide justice to all unnaturals. Both of the partners are workaholics, with Dan's long-time mantra being "The cases don't solve themselves."
Dan's BHF (Best Human Friend) is Officer Toby McGoohan, the beat cop for the Unnatural Quarter. McGoohan's defining characteristic is his constant telling of really bad, non-PC jokes about unnaturals. For example, "What goes 'Ha-ha-ha...plop?'...A shambler laughing his head off." (p. 30)
NOVEL 1: Death Warmed Over
Anderson concocts a humorous description and back-story for each quirky character. For example, Sheldon Fennerman, the vampire decorator, "looked like the illegitimate love child of a bunny and a hamster, but without the fur." (p. 19) Sheldon was a vegan before his transformation, and now drinks only soy blood. He's also quite fond of best-seller book clubs, bridge, cribbage, French-themed potlucks, and fondue. Sheldon's idea of interior decoration is burnt-orange shag carpet, Mediterranean-style furniture, and that kitten poster from the 1970s.
Although the plot has a few rough spots and at least one continuity issue (regarding the time line involving the beginning of Robin and Dan's partnership and their solving of the vampire-garlic case), this is an entertaining book that shambles along with lots of noir humor, a profusion of eccentric characters, and just enough violence to make it suspenseful. This is light-hearted urban fantasy at its best.
I listened to several chapters of the audiobook, and Phil Gigante does a great job with the various voices. He's got them all down perfectly, especially Dan's New Orleans drawl, Sheyenne's sexy purr, and Sheldon's petulant whine.
E-BOOK 1.5: "Stakeout at the Vampire Circus" (Novella)
This is a throw-away story that doesn't hold a candle to the characterization and drama of the first novel in the series, but I guess that if you'd like to get a taste of Dan Shamble's world you could get it from reading this little tale. Part of the problem is the brevity, because there's no room for the wealth of weird details, odd back-stories, and suspenseful danger in the short novella format. That leaves the reader with the bare bones of a fairly silly plot in which the identity of the light-weight villains is telegraphed early on and the "climax" is more of a sigh.
NOVEL 2: Unnatural Acts
This time, the early cases involve a necromancer who is oppressing a large group of golems in his workplace, an arson investigation at the Shakespearean Theater in Greenlawn Cemetery, a ghostly bank robber who wants to maintain his image, hate-crime vandalism at the Full Moon brothel, the retrieval of a zombie's heart and soul, and two civil rights cases involving property ownership by unnaturals. The first of the larger plot lines centers on the Smile Syndicate, an evil corporation that is buying up businesses and land in the unnatural Quarter and turning it into kitschy tourist attractions. The second major plot line that runs throughout the story is the threat of Senator Rupert Balfour's Unnatural Acts Act, which would restrict nearly every aspect of existence for the unnatural population and take away most of their already scarce civil rights. The villains represent the two major themes of this book: the damage that giant corporations do to independent businesses and to the people who depend on them and the infringement on individual rights that comes when a group with power uses that power to persecute a minority group.
The kindly Mrs. Saldana turns up once again in her role as head of the Hope & Salvation Mission in the Unnatural Quarter. Dan and Robin provide legal assistance to Mrs. Saldana as she finds a benefactor in the philanthropist, Irwyn Goodfellow, and needs help in setting up a foundation and organizing the MLDW (Monster Legal Defense Workers).
We follow Dan as he works the cases. (Remember Dan's motto, "The cases don't solve themselves.") As always, he is aided by his BHF (Best Human Friend), Officer Toby McGoohan; his partner, Robin Deyer; and his ghostly girlfriend, Sheyenne. Sheyenne has her own troubles to deal with when her long-estranged, con-man brother, Travis, turns up and causes major trouble for everyone.
Each case involves colorful, quirky characters—both human and unnatural. Even the witchy Wannovich sisters, Alma and Mavis, play a part in the controlled chaos that is Dan's life. They plan to write a series of pulp-fiction books based on Dan's cases, and they want him to help—not to mention that Alma still has a major crush on Dan—too bad that she's still stuck in pig form (due to a spell gone wrong in book 1).
This continues to be an entertaining series, with lots of oddball characters, weird cases, and malicious villains. It's paranormal noir fiction lite.
For the regular readers of the series, this one is probably a nonessential purchase (even though it costs only 99¢). Road Kill is definitely a short story—not even a novella. Don't be fooled by amazon's estimate of 49 pages because half of those pages are dedicated to blurbs for all of Anderson's other books and series. The actual story runs from locations 61 to 348; the blurbs go from locations 352-706—about 20% longer than the story itself. Anderson includes an introductory section called "Introducing Dan Shamble, Zombie PI" (locations 24-56), and that's great for a new reader, but of little interest to anyone else.
Click HERE to go to Road Kill's amazon.com page with its "Look Inside" book cover. Just click on the cover to read the Introduction and several pages of the story.
Dan's clients aren't nearly as funny as the ones in the previous two novels. In fact, several of them are unlikable, unhinged, and unsociable. The humor is also different—mostly based on bathroom humor of the lowest kind (e.g., noxious farts in a hot tub; splattering monster excrement; a demonic beauty shop patron covered entirely with pubic hair—with its accompanying odor; a werewolf lecture about bodily functions—including bowel movements). I mean, really, this stuff is gross, and completely lacking in humor. When reading these scenes, you're more likely to react with a grimace than a grin. Even Officer McGoohan's awful jokes fall flat in this book, whereas in books 1 and 2, they were worth at least a snicker.
The requisite climactic battle that pulls everything together has a hairy deus ex machina and several improbable coincidences that weaken the ending of the book. You'll figure out the connections among the cases and the identities of most of the villains almost immediately, so there's no real build-up of suspense.
Although Dan and his friends are always fun to watch, this is definitely the weakest of the books and the most formulaic. Anderson should consider skipping the fecal gags (and I mean "gag" in the most literal sense) and returning to the quirky, but much more amusing, characters and situations that he featured in books 1 and 2. After all, this is supposed to be a spoof of the ubiquitous zombie fiction now flooding the market, and, by definition, spoofs are supposed to be funny.
E-BOOK 3.5: "Naughty and Nice" (Novella)
Dan Chambeaux (aka Dan Shamble) is somewhat surprised when Santa Claus knocks on his door, but Santa is, after all, an unnatural, so why not? This year, Santa has a major problem—someone has stolen his naughty-and-nice list so he doesn't know which kids deserve coal and which deserve gifts. Dan, Robin, and Sheyenne immediately begin to investigate and soon find a likely suspect: an elvin Santa wannabe who rides around the Unnatural Quarter on an elaborated, motorized sleigh while decked out in a rhinestone-studded Santa suit and blue suede shoes.
Meanwhile, Dan's BHF (best human friend), Officer Toby McGoohan, also has a problem. Children are going missing all over the Unnatural Quarter, mostly street hooligans with juvie records. Are the two cases connected? Well, let's just say that that's the pattern in every other book in the series.
Although this story has a faint whiff of Dickensian grittiness, it is as short and straightforward as one of Santa's chimney drops. If you are nuts about Dan Shambles and crew, you'll probably enjoy this fluffy bit of holiday magic.