Deceased and Residing in Oakland is that rarest of things in zombie fiction — it’s new. It could also be argued that this genre-twister offers a novel take on noir mystery and happily there are no laws governing the distribution of genres in pulp fiction.
We’re twenty-five years into the age of the zombie and pockets of humanity are surviving in natural garrison cities on the edges of America. San Francisco is an overflowing refugee sanctuary surviving on scavenging and desperation and the seething scene makes a compelling backdrop for a zombie book which happens to check all the boxes of a noir mystery. There’s a cynical private eye (of a sort), a sexy dame, a mysterious villain and a sadistic henchman. And of course there’s a mystery, complete with a missing girl who may or may not exist, ghastly murders, rising stakes and a resolution composed of multiple twists. However it remains very much a dystopian zombie story and the twists in question are predicated on a genuinely creepy new variation on the virus trope.
These two complementary pillars of pulp are introduced by a cast of secondary eccentrics spanning them both, including mutilated and good humored veterans of the zombie wars, a demented professor of undead philosophy, an enthusiastic coroner, the world’s last “genocide metal” band and above all a disarming and charming pirate with what turns out to be a very well-reasoned dependency on narcotics. In fact the book is rich with the often hilarious characters that seem to convincingly be the natural byproduct of mankind’s last stand in the Bay Area. And of course there are lots of zombies.
It’s a fun book. At seventeen chapters and 200-odd pages it’s short but it feels shorter. There are few wasted words and even those that seem initially gratuitous serve in short order to advance the plot. And that’s the real charm of Deceased and Residing in Oakland: the language. Philip James, in what appears to be his debut novel has transported the hard-boiled narrative style of 1940s detective fiction to a very modern zombie novel, bringing with it vivid similes, dark humor and frequent snatches of noir poetry…
“Lanky and brittle and featureless and in their multitude like a burned pine forest.”
“There was a language conflict. Turns out he don’t speak knuckle.”
“His nose spread itself across his face like an inadequate police cordon trying to hold back an ugly mob.”
If it weren’t for the playful Easter eggs hidden in the names and personalities of some of the characters and the absence of even a single expletive I’d be tempted to call this a zombie book for grownups. It’s certainly true that there’s a lot more philosophy, drug use and prostitution then you’d find in most zombie stories, and of course appreciably more undead than your average noir mystery. The amalgamation works. It’s organic and natural, with an easy and entertaining narrative style, intriguing and presto-paced story and rich cast of offbeat characters. Deceased and Residing in Oakland advances two genres into what would be a welcome trend for both.
Deceased and Residing in Oakland can be found at Amazon.