Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Tales From The Discount Bin: Wet Work

I've got mixed feeling about this book, which was expanded from a short story that appeared in the Night of the Living Dead inspired anthology Book of the Dead. In many ways Wet Work is spectacularly, awesomely bad, but in other ways it's just plain bad.

Phillip Nutman does deserve credit for creating a fairly unique vision of a zombie apocalypse, where Comet Saracen rains down radiation that revives the dead and weakens the immune systems of the living. The twist here is that not all zombies are brainless, although all of them are bloodthirsty. For reasons not explained in the book, some zombies retain all of their mental capacities, and actively choose people to recruit to their ranks, saving the rest to live as cattle. Sounds promising, right? Unfortunately the book takes until nearly the halfway point to actually bring the zombies into the heart of the action, leaving them mainly on the sidelines while the action is focused on two disparate storylines, neither of which is incredibly fast paced or interesting.

Story A follows Dominic Corvino, an Italian CIA assassin with a penchant for Billie Holliday and silk Karate Gis. Most of his story is devoted to a botched job in South America and his investigation into who betrayed his team. It's no real surprise to say his investigation doesn't stop when he's shot to death by a fellow assassin, although it should have. I mean, you'd figure a seasoned CIA assassin would know enough to shoot someone in the head. That's common knowledge even when there aren't zombies running around. Story B follows Nick Packard, a rookie cop teetering on the edge of alcoholism as he begins his career on the mean streets of Washington D.C. while his wife is away to be near her dying mother.

While I can't say Mr. Nutman is a horrible writer, he isn't an especially spectacular one either, particularly when it comes to pacing. The book lurches unsteadily along, seeming to build up speed repeatedly only to veer away from any buildup of action to focus on some fairly tedious domestic action, and then suddenly picks up steam and races to it's conclusion in the last 60 pages or so. Nutman is the type of author who explains characters rather than allow them to reveal themselves through their actions, so it's hard to get fully involved in the parts of this book where we're supposed to be worrying about their predicaments.

On a side note, this book was written in 1993, and takes place in 1995, and yet the president, although never named, is clearly George Bush, and Dan Quayle is the vice president. It's never explained, although I am curious as to how he could have made such a mistake, or why he would employ such an anachronism. That's the largest, although not the only, error in the book. It's clearly stated early on that the Zombies feel no pain, and yet when it suits the story they are shown and described as being in pain from certain wounds.

Still, the book passed a boring day answering phones at a temp job(no, I wasn't slacking, they told me to bring a book!), so it has that going for it. And really, what's not to love about a climax that features a full on kung-fu fight between two zombies in the lobby of the Pentagon(which had been converted into a farm where live humans are kept to be fed to the politically elite?

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