Over the past few years I’ve become a pretty big fan of Urban Fantasy after thinking it was little more than vampire chicks running around gothic-drenched back alleys with fairies zipping around their heads. Maybe I was just wrong, or maybe a ton of quality authors took things in a far more gritty direction, but as of late I just cannot get enough from authors such as Mike Carey (the Felix Castor series), Charlie Huston (the Joe Pit Casebooks), Simon R. Green (the Nightside series, the Secret Histories series), and Gregory Lamberson (the Jake Helman Files, as well as the cult-classic film Slime City in case the name looked familiar). All of these guys combine elements of crime, noir, fantasy and horror, which are my personal favorite genres when it comes to novels, and make the most of them by creating unique universes where a singular person is facing real problems in an unreal world. I’m always on the lookout for new authors and stories along these lines, so Tim Waggoner’s Nekropolis jumped off the shelf at me when I saw it was a noir mystery featuring a zombie investigator; comparing it to the works of Carey and Huston on the back cover literally made it grow legs and walk up to the checkout counter for me. Having just finished reading it, I can happily say it delivered on all of my lofty expectations.
Created by the Darklords to escape the persecution of their race on Earth, Nekropolis exists on another plane of existence although due to hidden portals in various locations, a connection with Earth can still be made. That’s how ex-cop Matthew Richter has found himself there, and thanks to dying in the process of tracking his perp, it’s why it’s his new home. Now a zombie, he’s still something of an oddity in a land full of shape-shifters, magic wielders, vampires, bare-skulled bartenders, and cabbies that drive living (and hungry) taxis, because he’s the only zombie that not only was resurrected without the aid of a master, but also thinks and acts on his own, retaining all of his human memories. He now makes his living as a private investigator, although he doesn’t run an official business, he just does it to make enough darkgems (Nekropolis’s form of currency) so he can pay for preservation spells that will keep him from rotting away. In the midst of the annual Descension festivities, celebrating the birth of Nekropolis, he’s approached by a half-breed vampire (here known as Bloodborn) named Devona, who while tending to her father Galm’s, one of Nekropolis’s five Darklords, collection of mystic artifacts, has found that one item, the Dawnstone, is missing. This couldn’t have come at a worse time, as the yearly Renewal Ceremony, where Nekropolis’s moon Umbriel, which keeps things running, is restored with dark power via the five Darklords and the creator of Nekropolis, Father Dis, is less than 24 hours away. The fact that the Dawnstone, in the right hands, can create sunlight in a place where it would likely wipe out all of its inhabitants poses a bit of a problem. With Matthew Richter on the case though, whoever plans to wipe out Nekropolis is going to have to do it over his dead body.
Zombies are a hot property right now, almost to the point of wearing out their welcome, but I can happily say that what Waggoner does in Nekropolis feels very fresh. Basically what he’s done here is borrow the idea of a protagonist that’s infected with a disease and is not only in a race against time to solve a mystery but also save themselves, only now with a supernatural twist. Nothing here feels forced or a lame attempt to cash in on a popular area of horror storytelling, because the zombie angle is played down in favor of the grander overall story. It’s also nice that we’re not just someone normal living in a world of zombies. Here, we’re in the shoes of the zombie, going through the motions of how he can no longer feel the touch of a person, smell a fragrant aroma, and wondering how long it’ll be until he rots away to nothingness. It’s also worth noting that Waggoner wrote the initial story that this is based on thirteen years ago, way back when no one gave two shits about zombies, and only recently was given the opportunity to have it published in the mass market by expanding it into a full novel.
That’s another really big plus about Nekropolis: you would never know this wasn’t intended to be a huge, sprawling, grand story from the outset. Nothing feels crowbarred in or added at the last minute to fill space. All of Nekropolis’s bizarre locales that Richter and Devona visit for information, from the Wyldewood where shape-changing Lykes stalk unsuspecting prey, to the Boneyard where Victor Baron scavenges body parts for monstrous creations and sentient bugs gather information from every corner of the land, to the library where giant silverfish feast on paper memories, to the vampiric Gothtown, drenched in Universal Horror’s gothic aesthetics, are wonderfully envisioned and fleshed-out. The universe Waggoner has created feels authentic, alive and bustling with activity and wonder around every bend. I couldn’t wait until Matthew and Devona went into a new area of the world, as the sense of discovery and awe is truly rich.
We’re also treated to a pretty satisfying ending, something that is sometimes lost on these types of books. On more than one occasion, I’ve put down a novel of this nature and realized I had much more fun during the journey itself than when the final destination was eventually reached. Here the finale is just as thrilling as the unveiling of all of Nekropolis’s locales and meeting all of its depraved denizens, and it should leave you feeling sufficiently full, but still wanting more. It’s a good thing then that at least two more books are planned for the series, and if they sell well enough, who knows what may be next. If you dig your noir and mystery with a heavy dose of horror and fantasy (as well as a tongue-in-cheek zombie private eye that may be dead but still has a heart), Matthew Richter’s first pulp adventure through the streets of Nekropolis will not disappoint.
Please feel free to discuss "Nekropolis" here, in our forums!