Meet Matthew Richter, a sharp-eyed detective, former cop, and zombie. He’s fantastic company to have around if you don’t mind the smell.
I first got introduced to Matt about six months ago when a coworker of mine – one who knew I had a soft spot for urban fantasy and any kinds of fun genre fiction – brought this book called Nekropolis up to my desk and suggested I check it out. I was interested even then, but I was swamped with university work and couldn’t imagine reading a book for fun when I had so many to read for grades. Fast-forward to last week: Kate and I are wandering around the mall in White Marsh, saw a 40%-60% closing sale at Borders, and like any good bibliophiles, came out with a shit-ton of books. Among them I had Thomas Blackthorne’s Edge, a Mass Effect novel called Ascension, and Tim Waggoner’s Nekropolis. You can’t let books like this go homeless, right?
Dumbing down Nekropolis as a hard-boiled noir/supernatural mystery novel by just calling it urban fantasy would discredit some of the novel’s best, most creative aspects. From the get-go, Waggoner’s talent as a world-builder and a scene-setter is evident – the novel isn’t set on Earth, but instead in another dimension in a twisted always-like-Halloween-only-fucking-awesome city named Nekropolis. Waggoner takes every chance to remind us that this isn’t Earth. Computers are living, breathing flesh-machines with unpleasant temperaments; vampires aren’t just pale-skinned bloodsuckers, but techno-addicts that remind me of a mix between Crash Override from Hackers and Sark from Tron. Nekropolis is a world all on its own, so vastly different than ours that it’s an absolute pleasure to leap into, learn about, and live within (as long as you don’t mind all the murder).
Matt Richter is a fun companion to travel alongside, too. His internal (and external) dialogue is often chuckle-worthy. Finding out just how a zombie can keep his faculties of analysis and conversation is something better left to the book. Waggoner graces us with a fantastically-balanced character – Richter is smart, witty, and clever, but he’s slow to react and isn’t exactly in touch with all of those emotions he left behind as a human. Zombification isn’t just a neat little gimmick in Nekropolis — instead, Waggoner takes every opportunity to use the advantages and disadvantages of zombification to his plot’s merit. His other characters are just as colorful, from Gregor the insect informant to Skully the faceless/skinless barkeep. The world isn’t just fully realized through its setting, but also through the sometimes-hilarious, sometimes-scary, always-creative characters Matt runs across.
In terms of plot, Nekropolis doesn’t exhibit any groundbreaking ideas. The overall story – a magical artifact capable of mass destruction goes missing, and it’s up to Matt Richter to find it – adheres to usual mystery fare. Often times, Richter discovers something a few moments before readers do, requiring them to rethink the clues they’ve been given and see if they too can race to the solution before the story does. The occasional surprises, while not mind-blowing, remind you that the hints are bread-crumbed all throughout the book, and that readers with an analytical eye need to keep it open wide.
The unfortunate aspects of Nekropolis fall not so much the storytelling, but to the editing. I found a number of formatting and tense errors throughout the book (not to mention a weird, book-long spacing crunch at the bottom of every page that pushes the final two lines dangerously close together). Likewise, the romance element felt a little forced, and the antagonist(s) in the novel rather enjoy explaining their grand schemes. To most readers, though, I can’t imagine these final two will be a real big issue. While here’s nothing bad about the romance or the fill-in-the-holes plot-unloads, there’s also nothing redefining about them, either.
And I think that’s where the line is drawn between books like Nekropolis and, oh, I don’t know, whatever you’ll pick up in the classic lit section. These books are read purely for the fictional excitement, the breakneak escapism, and the rollicking good time we have reading them. I don’t care for them to do anything drastically new as long as they do things that are intensely entertaining. Nekropolis succeeds at doing all of that.
I’m looking forward to picking up the sequel Dead Streets after I finish a few more books so that I can return to Nekropolis. In the meantime, give the series a shot – you might find a new favorite narrator. If you don’t, you’ll at least discover a well-made world inhabited by a one-of-a-kind protagonist.
You’re in good hands with Nekropolis, as long as you forgive the clammy skin.