4 Stars - Highly Recommended to fans of zombie fic and crime noir; entertaining smash-up of both genres
Publisher: Red Adept Publishing
Released: Oct 2014
Pulpy crime noir is not normal TNBBC fare by any means. Our most loyal and beloved readers know this, as do the many authors who've passed pitch letters for that genre our way. But pulpy crime noir involving... zombies? Uh, heck yeaaaah, pass that bad boy over here!
The last time I read anything of this ilk was back during the 2011 BEA, when I was kidnapped and brainwashed (just kidding, sort of) by scientology's publishing arm into taking a review copy of Dead Men Kill. What turned Hubbard's predictably canned and corny detective story into a rather fun and rompy read was the fact that it had zombies. Death by the hands of your recently deceased secretary?! Count me in.
The only other time I tried reading a spin on the hard-boiled detective novel was A Lee Martinez's The Automatic Detective, and that one, though written in classic noir style, was set in the future and featured a robot protagonist. So yeah, you see where my reading tastes lie, right?
I feel no shame in admitting that that's what sold me on Stephen Kozeniewski's pitch for his retro crime-noir Braineater Jones. Ok, so the title is a little... cheesy and the cover is a little... tacky but seriously, we're talking a crime noir novel where a ZOMBIE PRIVATE EYE is investigating his own death. The title HAS to be cheesy and the cover HAS to be tacky! It's so bad it's good, ya know? Hell, it's better than good. It's fricken tops. And it's set during the prohibition so the entire novel is peppered through with good ole 1930's lingo.
So here's the lowdown: The novel kicks off with our protagonist floating face down and naked in a swimming pool. He's dead and he has no memory of why or who did him in, though he can pretty well tell how as he fingers the big ole hole in his chest:
"I woke up dead this morning... Not dead drunk. Dead. Dead dead. As in no pulse, no breathing, dead as a doornail dead... dead is tough. But dead and still thinking means I've got a chance."
His first order of business, finding the guys who killed him. Then, figuring out why he's become a braineater. Actually, he'd be cool with answers to either at this point. So he starts by logging all of his questions in a journal - Who was the hatchet man? Why did they bump me off? Who or what was I before I died? Why can't I remember anything from before I died? What am I? And are there others like me? - and begins to search the property for clues. Before he gets very far, he's chased by two men with guns, ending up in an alley in a bad part of town. And here is where our Braineater Jones starts to get some answers...
Told from the eternally hopeful POV of Braineater himself, we're pulled deep into the underbelly of The Welcome Mat, a dark and dangerous place where the rest of the dead hang out, pickling their brains with alcohol (a very effective way of staving off the rigor mortis and quieting their innate hunger for flesh). There, he meets Lazar - a mysterious man who promises to keep Braineater's whistle whet for a price; a troublesome dame who smells like nothing but trouble from the start; and Alcide, who quickly becomes his severed head sidekick. Oh yeah. A fucking severed head you guys.
Nothing is as it seems and every answer only seems to create more questions for our wise crackin' protag. But come hell or high water, Jones won't give up until he gets to the bottom of things, or until he ends up double-dog dead. Whichever comes first.
Stephen Koseniewski pulls us along, page after page, leaving us just as clueless as his narrator. We know only what Jones knows as he comes to know it, the truth of his murder and the origins of the walking deaders unfolding before our eyes at the same time.
An incredibly well written and brain-tickling read, Braineater Jones aims to hit you in both the heart and the funny bone. Super hard core zombie lit fans might find the liberties Stephen takes with his undead a little too much to bear, however for this reader, it certainly hits its marks.