Braineater Jones by Stephen Kozeniewski
Braineater Jones wakes up face down in a swimming pool with no memory of his former life, how he died, or why he’s now a zombie. With a smart-aleck severed head as a partner, Jones descends into the undead ghetto to solve his own murder. But Jones’s investigation is complicated by his crippling addiction to human flesh. Like all walking corpses, he discovers that only a stiff drink can soothe his cravings. Unfortunately, finding liquor during Prohibition is costly and dangerous. From his Mason jar, the cantankerous Old Man rules the only speakeasy in the city that caters to the postmortem crowd. As the booze, blood, and clues coagulate, Jones gets closer to discovering the identity of his killer and the secrets behind the city’s stranglehold on liquid spirits. Death couldn’t stop him, but if the liquor dries up, the entire city will be plunged into an orgy of cannibalism. Cracking this case is a tall order. Braineater Jones won’t get out alive, but if he plays his cards right, he might manage to salvage the last scraps of his humanity.
Whenever I find myself reading a zombie novel I’m always on the lookout for something new, something that injects a bit of much needed life (sorry) into the vast hordes of undead. The hook for Braineater Jones is mashing together traditional zombie horror with pulpy old-school detective action.
When Jones is first introduced, he is, understandably, a bit of a blank slate. His journey to discover the details of the life that he has lost is what forms the main narrative of the novel. Like many a straight-laced detective thriller, the author delights in littering the plot with subtle clues about what exactly is going on. Braineater would be utterly lost without his trusty notebook that helps him remember everything. The other bonus of zombification is that the plot often features some gruesomely over the top embellishments. Ladies of the night who work out of a mix and match body part bordello, anyone?
How much horror can you expect in Braineater Jones? Well, it wouldn’t be a proper zombie novel if there weren’t at least a few scenes that force you to make that “Eeeeeuuuwww” noise out loud on occasion. Kozeniewski managed to pull that off with The Ghoul Archipelago and has done exactly the same here. There are a couple of nicely graphic moments that properly icky, just wait till you meet the Old Man!
My favourite thing about Braineater Jones? Aside from him having a partner who is just a disembodied head? The discovery of who the natural enemy of zombies were in the 1930s. I’ll avoid spoilers, but it was nice to be cheering on the undead for a change.
A word of warning however, the author has taken great pains to ensure he has captured the various sights and sounds of the era; not just the good, but also the bad. Some of the attitudes the characters exhibit will no doubt be considered politically incorrect by some. Personally, I rather liked these additional societal shocks. If I am reading about a specific time period when there were some questionable ideas floating around, I think I would be expecting to pick up on some mention of them. Idioms and slang that were used in the 30s that wouldn’t be considered palatable now are used, but this is in keeping with the time period. I suspect the story would genuinely be lacking something if they omitted for the sake of political correctness.
If you enjoy your zombies stories, but are looking for something just a little bit different; if a world chock full of eviler-than-evil villains and shadowy speakeasies appeals, then Braineater Jones is the undead fella you want to meet. Dark and often darkly comic, this mash-up of nineteen thirties America and zombie fiction is bound to find fans amongst both camps.
Braineater Jones is published by Red Adept Publishing and is available now.