Dead Mann Walking (Hessius Mann #1)Dead Mann Walking by Stefan Petrucha
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Dead Mann Walking is an urban fantasy that manages to break free from the pack of most of the other urban fantasies I’ve read. Most of those others involve sexy vampires, sexy werewolves, wizards, or other…well, romantic figures. Ghosts. Fairies. Elves. That kind of thing.

Hessius Mann is a zombie. But they don’t call them that. They call them chakz, after the Spanish word for “jerky,” or “dried meat.”

Mann, who was a policeman in life, was accused of murdering his wife (for good reason), and found guilty. He was executed for the crime. And then exonerated. To give him a “second chance” of sorts, he was revived. The hell of it is, he doesn’t remember whether he actually did it or not. It’s all lost in a haze. Chakz’ memories aren’t what they were in life. Mann doesn’t like to think about it too much. What if he remembers…and it turns out he did kill her? Could he “live” with himself, knowing that?

Unlike most chakz, Mann is pretty lucky. He’s in one piece with few nicks and cuts, although the injuries he’s received since his raising are easy enough for his assistant Misty to fix with an exacto knife, needle, thread, and super glue.

He’s running a mostly unsuccessful private investigation business. Chakz are universally reviled. Not only are they outcast, they have to deal with the constant threat of harassment by Hakkers, gangs of young thugs who think it’s fun to torture and/or destroy the undead. And even though most chakz are able to hold things together pretty well, mentally…occasionally one slips and turns feral, becoming like those Romero-type zombies that mindlessly kill and eat any living humans–Livebloods–they come across. That doesn’t make chakz any more loved.

A lawyer visits Mann at his office one day to offer him a substantial sum of cash to find his client’s heir–who is a chak–and bring him home into the loving arms of his family so he can inherit the family fortune. Mann doesn’t look a gift horse in the mouth, and takes the money–and the case. But then, several chakz are discovered in pieces. Minus their heads.

Mann soon realizes that the cases are related, and once he starts investigating it, he stirs up all kinds of trouble in the community, and uncovers a plot that will endanger his unlife several times over. But the police are no help–they all think he killed his wife, after all, and it’s just chakz who are being disposed of, not real people–and the only liveblood who’ll help is Misty, who has her own demons.

What I really liked about this novel is that not only does it have the requisite Mystery That Must Be Solved™, there’s quite a few things in there that hold a bright light up to how society tends to treat those it values least. The people it chooses not to notice. The people it wishes would just go away. A chakz’ existence is pretty bleak, and most of them didn’t ask for it. It’s not really life they’re living so much as it is mere existence. They don’t have any of the animal drives of the living–sleep, food, water, air, sex–and they aren’t welcome anywhere. What’s left to them?

The book doesn’t shy away from these questions, either. It addresses them head on. At the end of the book, the legal status of chakz comes under scrutiny and undergoes a drastic change, which should provide a very interesting backdrop for subsequent books in the series.

Make no doubt about it: In many ways, this is a bleak story. With bleak characters. Living in a bleak world. It is not light-hearted and fluffy. It is probably not going to uplift your soul or make you shed tears of happiness and joy. There are no wise-cracking heroes who always get the girl, here. In fact, even the good guys aren’t always so great. But I think that makes them more interesting to read.

And it is a very good read. The plot makes sense. The pacing is good. The characters are not just flat caricatures of movie monsters, but have some actual depth. There are some very interesting secondary characters that I look forward to seeing come back in later volumes. There are a few places where you’ll laugh, and there are a few places where you’ll squirm. And there’s at least one scene that should give you the heebie-jeebies. (Heh-heh!)

But you’ll keep turning the page because you want to know what happens next.

And isn’t that the hallmark of a good book?

I’ll definitely be looking for the subsequent volumes.

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