I’m late again. I dozed off after work and slept longer than I should have. But I’m fairly happy with how this turned out all the same. This book makes me think quite a bit of some of the old horror comics I grew up reading but more overtly funny. This one’s from netGalley, here’s James Aquilone’s Dead Jack and the Pandemonium Device. Enjoy!

Dead Jack and the Pandemonium Device cover

Dead Jack is the best zombie detective in ShadowShade, possibly all of Pandemonium. It doesn’t hurt that he’s the only one around. It also doesn’t hurt that he’ll do anything for fairy dust. No job is too big as long as the price is right, possibly right up to saving all of Pandemonium. That is, if he can survive leprechauns with a grudge, a mad bat-god, and his own ideas.

So, James Aquilone’s Dead Jack and the Pandemonium Device is kind of an odd critter of a book. I’m left feeling simultaneously like I have very little to say about it and just wanting to throw all the words possible at it. It’s a detective story with very little detective work. The protagonist is terrible but still likeable. The side characters don’t show up much but they work so well when they do. It’s pretty great.

Our protagonist, Dead Jack, is the embodiment of everything I tend to dislike about noir detective style protagonists. He’s a jerk, he can’t function without his addiction of choice, he stubbornly refuses to believe that his companions could accomplish anything without him around, he should be the worst. But it’s all played in this sort of humorous subversion of tropes way. He’s addicted to fairy dust, both for the high and as a means of suppressing his zombie hunger, and thinks about it pretty regularly. It is in fact the entire reason he takes the case, but it doesn’t become something he waxes on about for pages at a time. We’re given mentions of him wanting fairy dust or of noticing the effects of it on other characters, but it’s for the purpose of telling us about the scene or the world. Jack is terrible to his homunculus partner, Oswald, but Oswald gives as good as he gets and the story never tries to convince the reader that Jack is in the right when he’s being a jerk. That wins both the character and the writing a lot of points from me.

Tied into that, Jack seems to be the least competent character in the book. But we are seeing things from his ridiculous self-aggrandizing point of view in such a way that it’s funny rather than annoying. This is a character who actually thinks that he’s an amazing detective, but the story itself doesn’t agree so there’s a nice balance there.

There’s a lot of that actually. Dead Jack has a tragic back story somewhere along the lines, but he doesn’t seem to remember most of it. We get some bits of it that serve to rattle Jack and tease more, but nothing that takes pages at a time. The reader is sort of dropped into the middle of Pandemonium and expected to keep up. It’s a world very different from our own, but its Jack’s home so he doesn’t go much into the specific differences. That allows the reader to build their own conclusions on specifics while keeping the pace fairly quick.

Dead Jack and the Pandemonium Device is a very quick read but very tightly plotted for how short it is. There isn’t a ton of time taken to flesh out the world that isn’t also being used to move the story forward or introduce a near immediately important concept. It takes good advantage of slower scenes to set up ideas for later without grinding to a halt.

This was a really enjoyable read and I am definitely going to be looking for the next one when it comes out. Dead Jack and the Pandemonium Device gets a five out of five from me. If you enjoy off beat detective stories or just need a way to spend a couple days, it’s worth giving a shot.

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