Tim Waggoner: Nekropolis and Dead Streets

In the extra-dimensional city of Nekropolis, where the dead walk and the dark things reign, there’s one guy who’s always got your back: Matthew Richter, zombie PI. A mortal cop who followed the trail of a crime to Nekropolis, only to die and rise again as the city’s only self-willed zombie, Matt’s an honest man in a strange and disturbing world. The preservation spells that keep him intact, ambulatory, and relatively fresh aren’t cheap, so he’ll take on any case that allows him to preserve his integrity (body and soul). With his trench coat full of tricks, a 9mm full of silver bullets, and a cadre of unusual friends, he handles all the strange, even upsetting problems that arise in a city full of magic and evil.

In Nekropolis, he’s hired by the half-vampire Devona, daughter of one of the city’s most powerful beings, to investigate the theft of a powerful artifact. Before Matt and Devona can figure out who stole the fabled Dawnstone, they have to learn why, and how. As they risk their (un)lives traveling across Nekropolis, they form an unlikely alliance, one that stands up under the pressures of repeated assassination attempts and other such hazards. But time is running short, with the most important day of Nekropolis’ year fast approaching, and whoever took the Dawnstone clearly has an eye towards using it to disrupt the ceremony and topple the city’s Darklords. Being a zombie may not be much of a life, but is Matt really willing to give it all up for a city like Nekropolis?

In Dead Streets, Matt and Devona are still fumbling into their new status as a couple, with Matt trying to get used to being something more than a loner. He’s still doing the PI thing, but he’s also working with Devona’s new security firm, the Midnight Watch. Unfortunately, things take a turn for the weird when Matt’s decapitated in a surprise attack by enemies unknown. As a zombie, this sort of thing is a temporary inconvenience, though only one man in Nekropolis is capable of putting Matt back together: Victor Baron … aka Frankenstein’s Monster. Baron, undisputed master of body augmentation, bizarre surgeries, and reanimating the dead, has made an entire industry out of providing flesh golems and related products to Nekropolis.

Proving that it’s just not Matt’s day, no sooner are head and body reunited, then he’s picked up on suspicion of a crime against the Darklords. With Matt unable to account for his body during that time, and the law uninterested in complications, he’s summarily tossed into Nekropolis’ worst prison, Tenebrus. All Matt has to do now is break out of an inescapable prison, avoid an entire city out for the reward on his head, defeat the most ruthless bounty hunters around, and find out who took his body for a larcenous spin. Evidence suggests Victor Baron or his people are behind it, but then things really get out of hand, and nothing’s clear anymore. Once again, it’s Matt and Devona and their newfound allies to the rescue.

Fans of the Dresden Files and the Nightside books will love this series, which fits right in as the shambling, decaying, little brother of the family. The main character has the never-say-die-again, heart-of-gold attitude of Harry Dresden, combined with the resourceful ruthlessness of John Taylor, set in a world highly reminiscent of the Nightside, only with more gore and more horror influences. Waggoner has really constructed a memorably freakish world in Nekropolis, where shapeshifters, vampires, zombies, ghosts and monsters of all sorts coexist in a Darwinist state of constant chaos. Magic mixes with science, giving rise to mass-produced Frankenstein monsters, cyber-augmented vampires, werecreatures sporting the genespliced attributes of multiple species, haunted cars that run on pure hate, and Baron’s line of fleshtech conveniences. It’s weird, a little disturbing, and works all too well for the setting.

It’s not all rotting undead and sewer-dwelling oozes. Waggoner’s tossed in some odd bits of humor here and there, proving that even he doesn’t take this too seriously. A visit to Victor Baron’s factory name-checks other famous mad scientists, including Metropolis’ Rotwang, Rocky Horror’s Frank N. Furter, Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein, Lovecraft’s Herbert West, Hawthorn’s Heidegger, Vincent Price’s Goldfoot, and the scientist from The Fly (take your pick of versions). None of these characters affect the plot, but their mere presence is enough to subtly tie Nekropolis to any number of fictional settings, grounding it in a much larger world of wierdness. It’s the little details that sell it, you know?

Waggoner’s taken another page of inspiration from Simon Green’s Nightside books, filling Nekropolis with all manner of unusual, often dangerous, supporting and background characters. Things like Lycanthropus Rex, the 50-foot-tall werewolf, and Carnage, a sentient Cadillac bent on destruction, really help to give this series an offbeat, intense feel.

In the end, it boils down to this: Matthew Richter is a zombie PI who couldn’t be stopped by death, and that pretty much makes him about as hardboiled a detective as any you’ll find. This is a gleefully fun series, and a worthy addition to the genre.

(Angry Robot, 2010-2011)

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