His mean streets are the city of the dead, the shadowy realm known as Nekropolis. In this first case, Richter must help a delectable half-vampire named Devona recover a legendary artifact known as the Dawnstone, before it’s used to destroy Nekropolis itself. That is, if he can survive the myriad horrors that infest the city itself.
(Summary from Angry Robot Books)
Matt Richter, an ex-cop from Cleveland, will be the first to tell you he’s not a private detective. He just does favors – for money, usually – for the denizens of Nekropolis, a world of nightmarish creatures and inventions. But the thing about these favors? They’re not exactly easy-peasy, get the cat out of the tree type favors. Take the one that opens up the novel: Matt picks a fight with a lyke, a monstrous amalgamation of several animals and reptile, so that a young woman killed by the lyke could inhabit its body and get her life back. Sort of. That right there tells us a lot about Matt: 1) In typical P.I. fashion, he’ll go to great – and often dangerous – lengths for damsels in distress, 2) he can lose a limb and still save the day, and 3) he’s a good guy. Liking Matt is important because…
Intense world-building can be either a blessing or a curse, and Nekropolis is like nothing I’ve ever “seen” before. Waggoner doesn’t pull his punches; from page one you’re up to your ears in new creatures, established rules, and a city that’s the underbelly of the underbelly of Hell. This means a couple of things, but mostly that you need to pay attention and be patient. From the start, I wondered how Matt found his way from Cleveland to Nekropolis; I was in over a hundred pages before finding out. As for the rest, well, it’s not that Waggoner doesn’t explain, doesn’t let us in on the secrets of this new world, but more that he does so in scraps. (Nekropolis is no place for rambling exposition, which might be considered a good thing, especially if you can go with the flow – however bizarre it may be.) I definitely appreciated the level of detail and the astounding history of Nekropolis even if, on several occasions, it had me raising an eyebrow. Or grimacing. Or saying something along the lines of “damn” or “eew.”
Now, Nekropolis is something of a hardboiled/noir mystery, as well, but if you see a color in your head when I say that, make sure it’s pitch black, as dark as you can possibly imagine. Matt fits the bill of a hardboiled detective perfectly, as it were, because he simply can’t feel in his zombie state, which makes his tolerance for violence quite high and his attitude remote, if not outright gruff. And the mystery plotline charges the atmosphere with a sort of slow burn anticipation. The pacing isn’t quick, but it’s steady, building and resolving as Matt puts together his case.
But here’s where it gets dark, horrifying even: Matt may use surprisingly traditional investigative techniques in his effort to retrieve the Dawnstone, but it’s the shady characters he encounters and questions that make your skin crawl. (And, please, don’t get me started on all the inventions that run on – working – human body parts.) There were a few times during the course of my reading that I had to set the book aside, swallow, maybe blink a few times, before bracing myself and plunging back in. Inventive? Absolutely. Icky? You could say that. But, man, I had to keep reading to find out if Waggoner could one-up himself. (Did he? I’ll leave it to you to answer that by reading the book yourself.)
I liked Nekropolis, was intrigued by it, and I’ve got to say, Matt Richter is a zombie to watch.