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Wednesday, January 4, 2012


Author:  Stefan Petrucha
Plot Type:  UF, heavy on zombie horror
Ratings:  V5; S1; H2
Publisher and Titles:  Roc
          Dead Mann Walking (10/2011)
          Dead Mann Running (9/2012)

     This blog post was revised and updated on 10/26/12 to include a review of the second book in the series, Dead Mann Running. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and a review of book 1:

          BOOK 2:  Dead Mann Running          
     As a result of the climactic chakz riot scene that ended the previous book, the powers that be in Fort Hammer have instituted the Chak Registration Act. Here, Hess explains the new laws: "Any chak who could speak or write had to take a monthly emotional stability test. Pass, and you're free to enjoy your second-class citizenship for another month. Fail, and they put you in a concentration camp until you do go feral. Then they safely destroy you. They're not clear on how they do the destroying. No one likes watching sausages getting made, or burned." (p. 2) Another part of the law requires all chakz to have cell phones, which are used to track chakz who go AWOL. The cell phones become an important part of the later stages of the plot. 

     In the opening scene, Hess is alone in his office watching his old flame, Nell Parker, on TV when she makes the shocking announcement that Dr. Travis Maruta, developer of the Radical Invigoration Procedure, has apparently committed suicide on the eighth anniversary of his big invention. Moments later, Hess answers a knock on the door to find a disembodied human arm with a weathered briefcase. The arm drags the briefcase into the room and then jumps out the window. Inside the case, two vials of glowing blue liquid are nestled in a custom-made foam pad. When Misty, Hess's assistant, shows up, she calls her policeman boyfriend, Chester, for assistance. Then, a fake policeman shows up waving a gun and demanding possession of the case, and  before you know it, Hess and Misty are on the run—from the the law and from three different sets of murderous villains. 

     As Hess tries to keep himself alive and the blue vials hidden, he crisscrosses the city and the surrounding countryside, always on the verge of being caught by one or more of his pursuers. As he tries to figure out exactly what's going on, he spends time in two very different chak-camps. In one camp, he reunites with his old friend, Jonesey, who was the leader of the chakz mob back in book 1. Jonesey is now the leader of the Kyua movement among the chakz. Kyua is a Japanese word meaning cure, and for the chakz believers, Kyua has become a cultish religion that gives them hope for the future. Hess cynically calls Kyua "the imaginary god of the zombies." (p. 92)

     In the second chak-camp, Hess gets up close and personal with Rebecca Maruta, widow of Travis, and she turns out to be nuttierand far more dangerousthan her husband. Here is Petrucha's wonderfully astringent description of her: "She was compact with razor blue eyes, red hair coiffed with deadly seriousness and a nose so pointy you could impale fairies on it. Her thin arms elbow deep in black rubber gloves, her yellow lab coat flowed around her shapely figure like a gown. But even her curves looked like something you'd cut yourself on." (p. 166)

     In addition to Jonesey, several other familiar characters appear in the story. Police Chief Tom Booth—Hess's ongoing nemesis—is, at first, determined to capture and imprison Hess on trumped up murder charges, but the two later become allies when they are chained together in a scene borrowed from too many movies (e.g., The Defiant Ones, Fled, Tomorrow Never Dies) (Click HERE to go to for a much longer list.) Colby Green, Nell Parker's villainous "owner," continues his villainous ways in this book as he sends his goons after Hess in an effort to steal the blue vials for his own nefarious use. Nell herself plays a central role in the plot as she follows her conscience, which is just as twisted as the rest of this mixed up world.

     The minutiae of the plot are like perfectly shaped pieces of a finely crafted jigsaw puzzle. Each and every detail is necessary to understand the full picture, and Hess, with his faulty memory and battered brain, has a tough time putting it all together. But Hess was a smart human, and he is, relatively speaking, a smart chak, so have faith in both his intelligence and his persistence. This is a great follow-up to Dead Mann Walking, with its compelling plot, non-stop action, and a shocking ending that takes Hess on a bittersweet flashback to his childhood.

     In the world of this series, technology has advanced (or regressed) to the point that a company named ChemBet has made it possible to bring a dead person back to life through a "patented, self-perpetuating, neo-magical, electrostatic radical invigoration procedure, RIP for short." (Dead Mann Running, p. 3) Of course, the newly revitalized person has none of the attributes of a live human being. Instead, it has most of the traditional characteristics of a zombie: persistent rotting, lack of emotion, stiffness of motion, dry (REALLY dry) skin, and wonky memories. Coming back from the dead is called getting ripped: from the acronym for the process, and ripped persons are called chakz. Real live people call themselves livebloods to differentiate themselves from the chakz.

     Here is Hess, describing the various types of chakz: "Livebloods call us chakz—a mangled version of charqui, or, en ingles, jerky—dried meat. If we’re still oozing, which is pretty rare, they call us gleets or juicers. Then there are danglers, but I’ll leave that definition to the imagination. It’s not like the movies. We don’t eat human flesh unless we go feral, and then it’s more like we’ll eat anything. We are tough to destroy….Cut off an arm or a leg, shoot us in the chest—we’ll keep coming." (p. 3)

     Three more new words have found their way into popular usage: The first is D-cap (short for decapitation), which is the main method used to get rid of the chakz that livebloods don't want around any more. In the earliest days of RIP, many livebloods brought back treasured family members only to discover that Grandma wasn't quite as lovable when she went feral and ate the family dog. D-cap has become the perfect solution to that delicate dilemma. The second new word is hakkers, the name given to drunken gangs of armed young men on motorcycles who head for the chak shantytowns on Friday nights to slash and hack as many chakz as possibleall in good fun, of course—while the police look the other way. The third is actually a phrase: chakking up, which refers to an amorous relationship between a liveblood and a chak.

     Fort Hammer's population has a higher than average percentage of chakz. Here, Hess explains why: "These days Fort Hammer's two big claims to fame are one of the highest murder rates in the country and the highest execution rates. Cheers went up in bars across town when we pushed ahead of Texas. One town, ahead of Texas. That's where the rest of us chakz come from, myself included: the death penalty....The same year they started ripping the dead, improvements in DNA testing revealed an embarrassing number of wrongful executions. Ethically, the biggest argument against the death penalty was that it could never be undone. Thanks to our caring friends at ChemBet, now it could be." (p. 31) To deal with the inadequacies in the justice system, Congress passed the Revivification as Restitution Act (RAR), which requires that the wrongfully executed be ripped—that is, brought back as chakz.

     The main character in the series is Hessius (Hess) Mann, a chak who was executed for murder when he was a human police detective, but was later partially exonerated and then ripped. Hess was accused of beating his wife to death after receiving an anonymous e-mail photograph of her sleeping with his boss, Thomas Booth, the chak-hating chief of detectives for the Fort Hammer Police Department. Now, Hess ekes out a living as a private detective, with chakz as his clients.

     Click HERE to read my review of Petrucha's fascinating paranormal novel, Blood Prophecy.

          BOOK 1:  Dead Mann Walking          
     As the story opens, Hess is sitting in his office in the Bones (the chak part of town) when he gets a new client, a liveblood named William Turgeon. Turgeon wants Hess to track down a chak named Frank Boyle, another unfortunate man who was mistakenly executed and then ripped. Frank's father has died and left him a fortune, and Turgeon has been tasked with finding the heir. The plot follows Hess as he locates Frank, only to find that Turgeon is not exactly what he has portrayed himself to be. In the meantime, Hess has been following the TV coverage of a series of murders in which dismembered chakz are discovered around the city—all missing their heads. Eventually, Hess realizes that he has stumbled into a nightmare in which he is on the list to be the next victim of a sociopathic killer.

     Here, Hess explains a bit about life the Bones: "The only working streetlamp crackled like it was spitting the light on the sidewalk. This was the Bones, the kind of place even crack heads see as a step down, six blocks of half walls, barbed wire left over from WWI, and vacant lots. Since we generally don’t have jobs, homes, or most of our faculties, any Fort Hammer chak who doesn’t hole up in a shantytown stays here. It’s the better choice, but not by much. We’re a city block away from a gated liveblood neighborhood, so the cops keep things relatively quiet. Not at the shanties, though. Hakkers, bored, disaffected livebloods, pick one every Friday and go play whack-a-chak, beating, cutting, and otherwise not letting the dead rest in peace. It’s like a live-action role-playing game, only you can’t tell who the monsters are.” (p. 15)

     Although there are a few inconsistencies and illogical events in the plot, this is a fascinating world. Beware, though, the violence level is very high, and a fair number of characters don’t make it through to the end of the book. Hess is a great character—trying to maintain as normal an existence as possible, but always on the verge of going feral. Petrucha establishes a dark sardonic tone as Hess ruminates about his "life" and wonders how long it will last. Hess's relationship with Misty, his liveblood assistant, whom he saved from crack addiction, is quite heartwarming as they carry out their everyday tasks (e.g., Misty stitching Hess's fallen-off bits and pieces back together) and prove their loyalty to one another. Although the villain is crazy bad and we know his identity early on, there is a nice twist at the end that will probably surprise you.

     Petrucha has wonderful skills with language. His gritty metaphors stand out as the action of the plot plays out around his characters. Here are two of his descriptions of Turgeon's ostentatious Hummer:
    “A yellow Hummer was parked right in front of my building, a piece of gold in a toilet bowl." (p. 15)

     "The environmental terror headed down the road, a big, bright yellow toy in a junkyard." (p. 76)

     Here is his description of the sound made by a crowd of moaning chakz: "It rose above the crackle of the car fire, one sandpaper-dry voice overlapping another, making a steady rush, like the ocean on a white-noise machine. When a chak moans in torpor, I take it for sorrow, profound sorrow." (p. 41)

    Click HERE to read the first chapter of Dead Mann Walking.

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