Meet Matt Richter. He’s a zombie ex-cop who does favours for people.
His turf is the Nekropolis, a dangerous and shadowed city of the dead. When a powerful artefact is stolen from one of the vampire darklords that rule the city, Matt teams up with Devona, a beautiful half-blood, to recover the artefact before its legendary powers can be unleashed.
I had high hopes for this book, partly because it seemed like an intriguing genre blend, but mainly because I’m a huge fan of stories with grim, urban settings. I’m happy to report that this novel more than does its premise justice.
The Nekropolis is a vast, pentagram-shaped city populated with all manner of creatures. There’s ghoul restauranteers, vampire punks, randy demons, a police force of golems, and nobody will forget the terrifying Silent Jack and his Black Rig. Now there’s a cab you don’t want to take you home.
Our protagonist’s case takes us to the Tim Burton-esque Gothtown, the spooky calm and vast foundries of the Boneyard, the brothels and bars of the murderous Sprawl. Elements of the supernatural are merged seamlessly with modern earthly technology – this is the work of an imagination that refuses to be restricted – and any genre cliches are self-aware, presented with a subtle wink. Nekropolis also has the cultural and social trappings of a China Mieville novel, but is much more streamlined and less political.
Matt Richter is a delightful narrator. He is witty, pragmatic but jaded like any good city cop. His personal journey brings a human touch to the fantasy, and we wonder – along with him – if his dead zombie heart can ever be roused to true feeling. Devona proves to be an equally likeable sidekick. Although strong-willed, she is initially naive and sheltered, and serves as a mirror for our own wonder and disgust at the city’s nightmares. I really warmed to the duo on their adventure and the potential for genuine poignancy amid the fun is not wasted.
I could only find two minor things about which to complain. Firstly, there are occasional errors in the text, which always annoyingly leap from the page. Secondly, in the first few pages, a lot of information and description almost (only almost) distracted me from the dialogue and tension of an otherwise perfect opening gambit. But other than that, I found it a blissfully effortless reading experience.
Nekropolis is structured like a detective thriller, and has all the shadowed alleyways, skullduggery and razor-sharp noir banter you could want. The cinematic quality would lend itself to a classic cult film, and if I won the euromillions lottery tomorrow, I’d fund it myself without hesitation.
I love the frightening and wild world that Tim Waggoner has created. Dead Streets, the next installment, is in the mail and I can’t wait to tuck in.