I like the normal approach to zombie fiction, with a group of living survivors trying to fend off a ravenous horde of the walking dead. It’s a lot of fun, but it’s been done a million times now, which is why fresh approaches to the genre are always nice. Especially when they’re as well done as Braineater Jones.
Rather than focusing on zombie survival, Braineater Jones is a depression-era hard boiled detective story where most of the principal characters are zombies. Of course, these aren’t you typical stupid zombies, they’ve got all the mental capabilities they need to get by in society, at least as long as they can keep themselves preserved with lots of alcohol. Unfortunately, when they’re no longer preservable, they turn into the brain eating zombies we all know and love.
The story begins with Jones waking up with a bullet hole in his chest, floating chest down in a swimming pool. He realizes pretty quickly that he’s no longer alive, but has no memory or his past how how his unlife works. When he wanders into the city, he finds that he’s very unwelcome by the living, but finds a new ally in “Lazar” who helps get him setup. Jones quickly learns that he needs alcohol to survive, electricity to keep the rigor at bay, and should recover his memories eventually.
Unfortunately, he needs a place to stay and money to keep him in booze, so he take Lazar’s advice and decides to become a private detective for his fellow ghouls. He’s not exactly good at it, but he’s good enough to take on a couple of clients and learn a lot more about the world in which he finds himself.
Zombies are a new class of citizens, and are at the absolute bottom of the pecking order. While prohibition had ended the year before for everyone else, the zombies are stuck in an area where booze is still not available. This is a deliberate decision by the powers that be, who clearly hope that the zombie problem simply sorts itself out so they don’t have to worry about it. This creates an important criminal element in the zombie community, where they must get their booze from bootleggers, who have all sorts of different ulterior motives.
Braineater Jones really excels in its world building. I loved every part of Jones’ new world and the various rules and factions involved in it. It’s a very rich world, and we only get the smallest hints about its breadth based on the ways which our protagonist leads his investigation.
Unfortunately, it trips up in making the plot just a little too complex than it has any need to be. I won’t spoil anything here, but there are simply too many involved parties and competing goals, so that by the time we’ve gotten to the bottom of the book’s central mystery, I sort of ran out of plot investment.
Nonetheless, Braineater Jones is a unique entry in the zombie genre, with a wonderfully built-up world. It trips over its own feet a bit toward the end, but don’t let that ruin the journey for you.