Jailbait Zombie. By Mario Acevedo. Eos. $14.99.
Mario Acevedo can definitely do better than this. In fact, he has – three times. Jailbait Zombie is the fourth adventure of Acevedo’s vampire detective, Felix Gomez, but it is so much weaker than the other three that readers should assume Acevedo had an off day, or week, or however long it took him to put this silly bit of incoherence together.
Obviously, one does not seek perfect verisimilitude in a book whose central character is a vampire, who in this case finds himself battling zombies. But why must the zombies’ creator be a prototypical mad scientist? Why must his headquarters be at Ghoul Mountain? And why does Acevedo make so many references to earlier books that readers picking this one up without having read the others will feel lost and cheated at all the talk of alien gangsters (who sound a lot more interesting than anything in Jailbait Zombie – and in fact were when they appeared in the third Gomez adventure, The Undead Kama Sutra)?
Certainly Acevedo’s third book had flaws; so did his first two, The Nymphos of Rocky Flats and X-Rated Bloodsuckers. But as you can tell from the titles, they also had a kind of raw humor and an offbeat sexuality about them. Jailbait Zombie – whose title is its best bit even though it turns out to refer only to the intention of creating a certain zombie, not actually doing so – lacks the punchiness, the often-played-for-laughs sexuality and the many rethinkings of vampire lore that the first three books contained. A couple of characters from those books do reappear in bit parts here, but only one (Gomez’s fellow vampire enforcer, Jolie) is actually an interesting creation, and that one is underused.
A big problem here is Gomez himself. His steady increase in intelligence, or at least cleverness, has disappeared here, and he is just as dumb and as prone to fall into a horrible trap as he was in the first book, in which he was supposedly first gaining control of his powers. A second big problem is the zombies themselves: there’s little rethinking of that horror cliché, with the result that Gomez is up against hordes (of course) of shambling and shuffling (of course) brain-eating (of course) things that fall apart but just keep coming (of course). Too many courses, or of courses, here.
Then there are the elements that make no sense at all, even in Acevedo’s context. For instance, vampires have the power to hypnotize humans, but when Gomez tries to hypnotize the master of the zombies, he fails – for no reason that is ever explained. And the character with whom Gomez is most involved here, a 16-year-old girl with strange mental powers and a disease that will kill her before she is 30 unless she becomes a vampire, is simply not very interesting: she is pouty and self-involved, has some artistic talent, may or may not be a Gomez ally, may or may not be useful to him, and so on. Yawn.
That “yawn” is actually the book’s biggest problem: much of it is simply boring, which a detective novel or thriller (or combination of both) should never be. True, one character says, early on, “I feel like I’m in the opening minutes of a horror movie. You know when all kinds of freaky gruesome shit happens and no one but the audience has a clue what’s going on?” Yes, we know, thank you, and we know you’re doomed for realizing this, but the thing is that we don’t much care. The few flickers of humor in Jailbait Zombie stand out because they are so few: “I dashed around boxes marked biological waste – to-go food for zombies?” Acevedo seems to have taken a detour here in a move to set up future books, since this one ends with an important challenge to the Araneum – the shadowy organization that rules all vampires and is in charge of making sure humans never learn of their existence. Fans of Acevedo’s earlier books should give him the benefit of the doubt with this one and see what he comes up with next. Don’t give up on him unless he produces something like Jailbait Zombie again.