Zombie Jack
by Samantha Winston, fantasy (2007)
Loose Id, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-59632-562-3


Zombie Jack is a hoot. Jack Severn, our hero, is a corpse. Did someone scream, "Necrophilia!"? Really, this one will be a treat to fans who enjoy horror movies with a touch of zany humor. While this one is not too scary, the macabre corpse humor is something to be savored, right from the start when the hero's arm falls off at the bus station.

Jack doesn't know at first how he was killed or who did it. All he remembers are waking up in a coffin and dragging his way up to the surface. A strange compulsion leads him to the new "burlesque pool club" The Purple Dee which turns out to be the location of his death. The new owner, Duane "Call Me Dee" Martin, panics when he realizes that he's forgotten to actually post the ad looking for a stripper (the current one dropped out at the last minute) so he decides to hire Jack as one for the Halloween opening night. Jack has a scary and big scar on his chest, but Dee thinks that they can use him in "The Monster Bash" where he will dance, scar and all, to The Monster Mash.

I've told you, this story is not quite of this world.

Brianna Henley is a security expert. She used to be a cop, but she can't control herself around men so she had to make a pass at her married partner and pretty much caused their working relationship to be far from perfect subsequently. Now she gets what little thrill she can by pulling off the trousers of the muggers she'd knocked out and taking a peek at their you-know-what. It would be fine if she has a boyfriend. Well, she had one until he died. Can you guess who her boyfriend is?

Brianna and Jack happen to meet again by chance and they realize that the person who killed Jack, called the Heart Taker, is still at large. The Heart Taker is called such because he rips out his victim's heart (hence the scar on Jack's chest) and leaves some romantic poetry in its place. Eh, that's quite cool actually. At any rate, Jack is determined to put the villain out of commission permanently. Unfortunately, the Heart Taker isn't human. It turns out that a powerful necromancer (who also manages the morgue) had discerned that there was something special in Jack's corpse that compelled him to reanimate Jack and charge him with the mission to stop the Heart Taker. As a result, Jack even gets some super kung-fu abilities with his new "life". Like it or not, Jack, Brianna, and Dee are going to find themselves in one adventure to remember, with several paranormally-inclined secondary characters tagging along for the ride.

Oh, don't worry, Jack doesn't do that rot and decay thing. Only chemically-reanimated zombies fall apart. Jack, being magically reanimated (and by a professional to boot), is going to be fine as long as he maintains the right diet and proper grooming. There is that pesky arm that keeps falling off, but that's actually by design. Something about "letting the evil" out.

Okay, let's get the question I know you want to ask me out of the way first. Yes, Brianna and Jack have sex in this story. I don't know how I feel about that, to be honest. I try to tell myself that this isn't any different from a woman sleeping with a vampire - these paranormal hard-bodied heroes are, technically, dead. On the other hand, we are talking about a hero whose arm has a tendency to fall off. I try not to think too much about the matter.

But sex isn't the main focus of this story, thank goodness. This is a zany romantic fantasy-romantic suspense hybrid story rather than an erotic romance so sex takes a backseat to other happenings in the story. I'm used to paranormal romances where the author is just waiting for a chance to throw a tedious "sex with the heroine is pre-destined and it will save the day, arriba!" nonsense at my face, so I'm happy that this one wants to tell a story rather than to shove a plotless sex-fest down my throat. There are more layers to the story that the bare backbone of a plot that I have given here. The story is really enjoyable as Ms Winston deliciously brings on the zany dark humor in a manner that really appeals to the fan of the macabre in me. The humor is not too overpowering or too farcical - just enough to keep me laughing. There is already a beautiful kind of poetry in the premise, what with a hero who lacks a heart, but is in love, and who is supposed to be dead but ends up a hero instead. The story doesn't disappoint in delivering a fun Tim Burton kind of romantic adventure where I am concerned.

Brianna is disappointing, to say the least, after her promising start as a zany penis-peeping heroine. She turns out to be this pathetic twit who focuses way too much on whether Jack really loves her or not when they all have bigger issues to deal with, such as Jack's adaptation to being what he is and the Heart Taker sending love letters to Brianna. She is just this annoying bimbo that acts like an anchor around Jack's neck. Jack, on the other hand, is a fun hero as he struggles to reconcile the cool new aspects of his life with his having to say goodbye to all that he knows (such as his family). He is not too angst-ridden, just enough to balance the sunnier aspects of his personality, and I like him. I also like May, the zombie mutant-hunter, and I think she makes a better match for Jack than the oh-so-silly Brianna.

The zombie canon is most interesting here and I like how the world-building for once doesn't dwell too heavily on vampires or werewolves. The werewolves that show up here are quite a change from the usual horny alpha-male types in other stories of this kind. Ms Winston makes her alternate universe here feels like something new and different from the generic urban fantasy settings out there, so I really like this one and won't mind staying around a little bit longer.

My other disappointment, apart from Brianna, is how the issue of the Heart Taker only comes to the forefront in the last twenty pages of this book and there is way too much information dumping in these pages.

Still, Zombie Jack is a most enjoyable read and it will be a waste, I feel, if the author doesn't revisit her world at least one more time. I'm pretty desensitized when it comes to all those vampires and werewolves in the market so it says a lot about how excited I am about this one. Zombie Jack is too much fun and the party seems to be only beginning by the last page, so do give me more.

Rating: 88


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