One of the strengths of small, independent publishers is that they care about the books they produce. They know that they are not going to become wealthy, global entrepreneurs. As a result, they have the opportunity to create beautiful books that readers want to keep. This is one such. To add to its appeal, ‘Stalking The Zombie’ has a stunning cover by artist Douglas Klauba. It does everything that cover art should. It draws the eye and gives the potential purchaser an idea of what might be inside.
For those who know Mike Resnick’s work, they will be aware that he is a writer of great imagination and a skilful wordsmith. His short stories are gems. This book contains eight stories featuring the same world and characters we first met in ‘Stalking The Unicorn’. John Justin Mallory is a down-at-heel Manhattan PI. He has all the characteristics of a Philip Marlow. In this first book, Mallory was lured to this alternative Manhattan by a goblin who wanted to hire him. He decided to stay in a familiar landscape peopled with a variety of supernatural beings.
Each of these stories has a small cast of familiar characters. His partner is Colonel Winnifred Carruthers, a former big game hunter who hunted gorgons. They have an office cat, Felina, who talks and is often a liability. The Grundy is the most feared demon on the East Coast and no-one is quite sure why he hasn’t killed Mallory for his insolence. Mallory also has a penchant for betting on an animal, usually a horse called Flyaway, and always loses.
The stories appears in a number of anthologies and magazines between 1991 and 2012. The earliest, ‘Post Time In Pink’, sees Mallory hired by the Grundy to investigate why the pink elephant he recently sold has started winning races. The Grundy believes the new owner is cheating and doesn’t know how. In this and several other stories, Felina provides the comic relief as a number of pompous beings such as goblins and leprechauns seem to have an aversion to fighting her.
‘The Blue-Nosed Reindeer’ was written for an anthology of Christmas stories. Once again, an animal has gone missing. This time it’s Jaspar. He is alternative Manhattan’s equivalent of Rudolph but is talent is as a proximity alarm when Nick the Saint is delivering presents on Christmas Eve. As that is four days away, there is a very tight deadline but, then, Mallory often has to work to a very short time scale.
Animals turn up again in ‘Card Shark’, although they are either the humanoid kind or the sort Felina likes to eat. In either case, they are fishy. Mallory is hired by the Prince of Whales, a very large blue-skinned individual met in earlier stories, who, like Mallory, has been sent tarot cards just before an attempt on their lives.
When Winnifred’s dream is stolen by ‘The Chinese Sandman’, in the story of that title, Mallory makes a deal with him to return it in exchange for the amber egg containing a miniature pegasus. The only problem is it is owed by the Grundy, who will certainly tear apart anyone who tries to steal it. It is up to Mallory, with Felina’s help, to persuade both to agree to a deal.
In this version of Manhattan, almost anything weird that can be dreamt of will turn up sooner or later. In the case of ‘The Amorous Broom’, it is a besom that can talk and which believes that Mallory is her soul mate. It actually belongs to the Grundy but, because he is fed up with its shenanigans, he gives it to Mallory. This is not a kindness as the broom follows him around, declaring her love and messing up his cases. The problem is how to get rid of it.
When the circus comes to Manhattan, Mallory is confronted by two men approximately the same size one of whom claims to be shrinking, the other growing. The problem is that they were the circus’ giant and midget and they believe they have been cursed. So, in ‘The Long And Short Of It’, the team have to find who has laid the curse, why and get it reversed.
All kinds of strange people and creatures turn up in Mallory’s office and with the oddest requests. In ‘Shell Game’, a person assuming the name John F Kennedy hires Mallory to recover the egg of a lamia. The problem is that the egg is the size of hen’s egg, except for the pattern of blue and red dots and the gremlin who stole it isn’t going to leave it around for anyone to steal.
The title story ‘Stalking The Zombie’ was written specifically for this volume. Big Bennie Bernstein’s funeral is due to take place when he gets up from his coffin and walks out. Mallory and co are hired to track him down and get him back in his coffin by the next morning. The trail isn’t hard to follow as he visits all his old haunts. Bennie’s problem is that he wants to do what he did when he was alive and zombies don’t have the capacity for that. This story has a number of elements that run through all the ones in this volume, though the Grundy doesn’t put in an appearance this time.
When these stories appeared in their original publications, each one would have appeared fresh. Seeing them all together it is noticeable that certain elements, particularly the character descriptions have been pasted into the text. The common elements, such as the behaviour of Felina and the cowardice of leprechauns and goblins take on a sameness. While each is a well-crafted, humorous story adding a little more to the world, Resnick has created, it would be more enjoyable if all the stories were not read at one sitting. Take time and savour it. It is however, a book to grace any bookshelf.
(pub: American Fantasy Press, 2012. 222 page small hardback. Price: $25.00 (US). ISBN: 978-0-9610352-5-9. There is also a leatherbound edition; $45.00 (US). ISBN: 978-0-9610352–0)
check out website: www.americanfantasypress.com