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Friday, March 16, 2012


Author:  K. Bennett (pseudonym for James Scott Bell)
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)

     This blog post was revised and updated on 9/1/12 to include a review of the third book in the series, I Ate the Sheriff. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and a review of books 1 and 2:

          BOOK 3:  I Ate the Sheriff          
     As in the first two books of this series, I Ate the Sheriff has a plethora of subplots that eventually tie into the series story arcthe approach of a Satanic Armageddon in Los Angeles. One of the subplots opens the book as Mallory attends a zombie recovery group meeting in which zombies try to talk themselves out of eating human brains. Mallory's friend, Father Clemente, has talked her into attending, but Mallory is ambivalent about the whole idea because she really loves the taste of human brains. After the session, Mallory views the street scene on Hollywood Boulevard: "the street was packed with what some called the night crowd, but what zombies called a buffet. It was like a recovering sex addict walking into a strip club, or a dieter with a hundred pounds to lose walking int an all-you-can-eat  joint with a gift card." (p. 6). As the story moves along, Mallory vacillates between meals of delicious humans and nasty cow brains, with lots of interior monologues in which she agonizes over her choices. 

     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 goodeither 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 upand 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 McGavinall 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 realismnot 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. 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. 

     In this world, mortals live in blissful ignorance of the vampires, zombies, shape-shifters, and demons who surround themat least that's true as the series begins. The series heroine, Mallory Caine, a criminal defense attorney, became a zombie a year agonot a lumbering, mindless hulk like the ones on The Walking Dead, but a soulless being created by a bokor, or controller, who used dark magic to raise her after she was shot and killed in a drive-by shooting. Shortly after her death, Mallory came back to life in a body bag in the morgue. She soon learned that her human life was gone forever, replaced by a regular need for brain foodin the most literal sense. She no longer has a soul, and if someone kills her again (by beheading her and stuffing her mouth with salt), she will go straight to Hell. Mallory sustains herself by using liberal amounts of body cream made from shark cartilage to keep her skin from flaking off and by leading a double life so that she can get the fresh brains that she needs to survive. When she's on the hunt for sustenance, she dons a wig and calls herself Amanda. In that identity, she poses as a hooker on the rough streets of the city, where she kills and eats the brains of innumerable ne'er-do-wells (e.g., drug dealers, neo-Nazis, sex offenders). In book 1, Mallory is focused on finding out who killed her, who reanimated her, and why the LAPD dropped her case after the lead detective went missing. Throughout all of her struggles, Mallory has maintained her faith in God, although she does keep asking Him why He allowed this to happen to her and why He doesn't help her find a cure. 

     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 timingthe exact ides of Saturnalia, to the secondapparently 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 lifeand 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 triala 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."

           BOOK 1:  Pay Me in the Flesh           
     As the story begins, one of Mallory's street-walking acquaintances, Traci Ann Johnson, is arrested for a murder that Mallory committed. The victim was a dirty cop who tried to kill Mallory after she allowed him to pick her up in her Amanda disguise, hoping that he would be dinner. The story follows Amanda as she investigates Traci's case and learns that the police have planted phony evidence and that a key eyewitness has lied. As the action moves along, the author adds more and more supernatural aspects to the storyto the point of overflow. Demonic political corruption, a sword-swinging religious zealot, and various sinister birds all make the investigation more and more complicated. Eventually, Mallory learns some facts about her birth that her drugged-out, hippie mother failed to tell her. 

     As a further complication, the prosecuting attorney on Traci's case is Aaron Argula, Mallory's ex-boyfriend, who dumped her years ago in favor of another woman and a good job in San Francisco. Now he's back, and he wants to restart their relationship. Mallory is still attracted to Aaron, but that attraction includes some stomach rumblings when she thinks about how good he'd taste, so she tries to turn away from him for good.

     Although there are some rough spots in the story (e.g., too many coincidences) and an oversupply of weird creatures, the story line is engaging and Mallory makes a brave and courageous heroine. Unfortunately, the plethora of outlandish critters sometimes threatens to overwhelm the story. Here are two examples: First are the giant yellow eyeballs that keep popping up to follow Mallory around, even appearing in a bowl of guacamole at a Mexican restaurant. They are never fully explained. Then, there are the owls, possessed by either good or bad spiritshard to tell when it's a good owl or a bad owl

           BOOK 2:  The Year of Eating Dangerously           
       As the story begins, Mallory takes down an entire motorcycle gang that is in the process of gang banging a teen-aged girl. Keep this little scene in mind because it has a link to the main plot further along in the book. Then, young Jaime Gonzalez comes to Mallory's office begging for help because his mother is trying to eat himjust another day in the life of a zombie lawyer in L.A. By now, Mallory knows that the city government, including the police department, is riddled with demonic corruption, so she has to be very careful of whom she trusts. The story follows Mallory and her investigator, Nick, as they try to figure out what is going on with Jaime's mother. In the meantime, she has to defend her long-lost father, Harry Clovis, against a murder charge. Back in book 1, Harry killed a zombified police detective who attacked Mallory. No one believes the zombie part of that story, so Harry has been charged with first-degree murder. Once again, the prosecuting attorney is her ex-boyfriend, Aaron Argula, who still wants Mallory back. In fact, he wants her to marry him. 

     The story shifts back and forth between the murder trial and the battle to save young Jaime. In one action-filled scene, Mallory proves in court that the "woman" pretending to be Jaime's mother is, in fact, a Rakshasaa demonic monster. It turns out that Jaime has some rather spectacular supernatural powers that the demonic world is determined to have for themselves. Towards the end of the book, Mallory finally learns who shot and killed her and who brought her back as a zombieinformation that shocks her to her very core. As her list of enemies grows longer and her allies become fewer, Mallory is happy that the police detective, Mark Strobert (whom she met in book 1) seems to want to be her friend. The books ends with the threat of a demonic war hanging over Los Angeles, which is apparently Lucifer's war headquarters here on mortal earth. 

     Once again, we have weird demons popping up out of nowhere (e.g., a super-strong, talking duck that tries to drag Jaime into a lake). And then there are the spirits that aren't monstrous at all, but just strange. At one point, the ghost of Cary Grant appears to Mallory in a restaurant, followed by a visit by the ghost of Darren McGavin (aka Kolchak, the Night Stalker) to her apartment. To add to the absurdity, Kolchak actually appears as Mallory's second expert witness at her father's trial. As in the previous book, the plot has some holes. For example, in one scene, Mallory manages to get a sleazy guy to give her the last name of a lead in her investigation: Sloan. Mallory obviously doesn't know who Sloan is, because she asks him, "Who is Sloan?" But she never gets an answer. Then, in the next scene, Malloryout of nowherehas the guy's full name and address. Where and when did she get her information? Who knows? One other weak point has to do with Mallory's zombie body. In this book, she gets shot and slashed repeatedly, but never seems to disintegrate or leak. We know that she has to use special cream to keep her skin from flaking off, so how is it that she suffers absolutely no evident damage from the bullets and knives? For me, this is a weakness in the author's zombie mythology. 

     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 seriesbut amplified here into exaggerated caricatures. Maybe I'm wrong, but I can't quite ignore my instincts on this onenot just yet anyway. Give them a read and tell me what you think.

1 comment:

  1. I LOVE these books! I just want to know WHEN I can get more! :)