This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books
Book: Dead Bitch Army
Author: Andre Duza
Type of Book: Extreme horror, zombies, fiction
Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: This is one that would have been discussed here whether Zombie Week happened or not. It’s a strange book and it’s published by an Eraserhead imprint.
Availability: Published by Deadite Press in 2005, you can get a copy here:
Comments: First, let’s get my site business out of the way. This is Zombie Week and there are five free books to be won by a single, lucky reader. How do you enter the contest to win the five books I am discussing this week?
1) Leave me a comment on any of the five Zombie Week book discussions.
2) You can increase your chances of winning by leaving a comment on all five discussions because each comment on each entry counts as an entry to win the books. Only one comment per entry counts, but that still means you will increase your chances of winning if you comment each day.
3) There is no time frame on when you must comment except to say that you must have all your comments posted by 9:00 pm CST on 4/1/11. So if you wait until the last minute or don’t get wind of Zombie Week until the last minute, you can leave comments whenever you like as long as you make them all by the end of the contest cut-off.
Any questions, don’t hesitate to ask.
Now to the book. Dead Bitch Army is an excellent follow up to Monday’s zombie offering because it violates, alters and subverts the zombie canon. Duza’s book may cause purists to argue over his use of zombies (or rather one zombie), but fans who love a good, nasty tale of revenge, blood, guts and just plain nastiness will love this book.
I am torn, and this is one of those reviews that I hate giving because there is nothing worse for me than seeing the amazing potential of a book, recognizing clear talent, but feeling as if the potential was not realized and the talent needed a bit of redirection. There is also nothing worse than damning a writer with faint praise so let me just state plainly what didn’t work in this book and what did.
Brief plot summary: Natasha Armstrong has been tracking the Dead Bitch, a woman named Mary Jane Mezerak, also known as Bloody Mary, and her small but creepy collection of hangers-on for years. She believes the Dead Bitch Army kidnapped her son, and after years of brutal entanglements, Natasha is framed for some of the Dead Bitch Army murders and ends up in prison. She is exploited by a reporter, a sort of dogpatch Barbara Walters named Linda Ludlow, who is later shown in an extremely brutal way that Natasha, “Tasha,” was not deranged and that she especially was not a murderer. Linda helps Tasha break out of prison and Tasha confronts the Dead Bitch Army at a gothic gathering on New Years Eve, 1999. The confrontation does not go as planned, and the end of the book is both sad, sobering and a good set up for a sequel.
Now, in terms of zombies, Mary is not a zombie Dr Dale would recognize. She does not attack people to eat them, though her clan does eat the bodies. She does not use her mouth as a weapon. Rather, her murders are for revenge, though some appear to be the result of just the desire to mindfuck because she is a deranged, otherworldly creature. She is very much capable of higher thought, as she organizes and runs her small army, uses weapons and, of course, is fueled by vengeance. She did die, and came back from the dead for reasons that are not entirely clear to me (and more on that in a moment), so in that she is a typical zombie. And while she is rotting and eventually may fall to pieces, her rot has been slow and she seems more mummy-like, with bones protruding from dry skin, and tissue like fragile silk falling away from her face. Of all the novels I discuss this week, this one presents the least amount of zombie for your buck, and we end up understanding far more about Tasha, Linda, and Mary’s ex-husband than we do about Mary herself. I am unsure if that is a problem, as keeping Mary enigmatic is sort of creepy, but keeping so much of that information from the reader makes it hard to really understand the point behind Mary needing the army or her desire to see the world end. We get tantalizing clues, but none of it ever pans out in terms of cold, hard explanation.
There are many instances wherein I wanted to just find Andre Duza’s phone number and call him up and ask him to explain. Here are some plot issues I had:
–Mary’s father was a high priest in a religion called the Church of 1000 Earthly Delights, an “Ergeister” religion and her father inculcated Mary in tales of violence, hexes, and Armageddon, and so we get a sense of where she gets her desire for revenge and her desire to see the world end. The church is mentioned also as the place where Mary met her right hand man, Griff, a telepath. So the church is important but it is never explained why. The beliefs of the church, how it might be linked to Mary rising from the dead set on vengeance, are never explained aside from a sort of primal anger that her ex-husband lived while she and their unborn child died. If her rage is something no one is expected to understand, there are too many potential explanations that go no where.
–Mary died in a fatal accident (and god help me but I don’t recall how she died) when she was pregnant. She was married to a football star, who is not gonna set the world on fire with deep morality but didn’t seem like such a bad guy. But Mary rises from the dead with a rabid desire to track down Carl Mezerak and kill him, which she does in a scene that is quite gory and sickening and will satisfy any gorehound. But why? Why did she hate Carl so much? Carl smokes way too much weed, has a wandering eye and is kind of a cad but I don’t ever see him doing anything to create a need for beyond the grave vengeance. If so, it isn’t supported by the text. So Mary’s deep need for revenge against her husband is odd. Add to it that it took her years, and I mean years, to finally kill Carl, and her psychotic drive for vengeance makes even less sense.
–We find out in the book that Mary and her army wanted Natasha to follow them. Griff, whose mind can alter reality for an entire crowd of people, implanted ideas in Tasha’s head, letting her know where they would be. Why? Why did they need this one woman, who is not believed, to follow them for years? Mindfuck? If so, that was one of the more pointless mindfucks I have ever read.
–There are political side plots that, in my opinion, sap the Dead Bitch of her power, or at least the implied power that I assume is there because of the strange church and her unrelenting violent tendencies.
–There are so many peripheral characters with deeply interesting but truncated stories that it’s hard to know if you are meant to absorb their part of this book because it is going to be important later or if it is just a throwaway with a tiny bit of relevant information. This is all the more distracting and disconcerting because two of those side stories wherein you wonder, “Who the hell is this person, where did he/she come from, and what the hell does any of this mean,” you are also reveling the utter creepiness and nastiness.
It took me much longer to read this book than I would have liked because I, being the sort of person who is certain there is order in the universe, was certain that there was an explanation for all these plot dead ends, that all those characters who popped up with no explanation, that all those asides about the church, Carl and his girlfriend, hallucinations, people kidnapped, a shootout, must play a part in the plot or Duza would not have wasted so much time. So I backtracked and tried to find the link I felt I missed and of course, I never found it. While I am not going to go so far as to recommend that anyone buy and read this book, if you do, I encourage you to handle the book in this manner: Read the parts with Mary, Tasha, Griff, Carl and Linda as the novel. Had I been the editor for this book, all those side plots of the train car going missing, the shootout at the end, the kidnapped people, the girls hiding in the bathroom would have been cut out and run with the last few strange chapters in the book called “The B-sides.” Or I would have cut them and the B-sides out entirely and encouraged Duza to flesh them out slightly and put them in a collection of short stories that were all strangely linked together. So if you read this for the gore and the at times damn excellent writing, just ignore that which is not Mary, Tasha, Linda, Carl or Griff and read the rest later as bonus short stories.
And my common Eraserhead lament of less than stellar editing comes up again. Sorry. I know that many who come for the gore and foulness may not care if a nauseated character “wretches” and frankly, as I also always say, mistakes happen. They happen. Even in the best edited books released by the largest publishers who have tons of money to pay lots of copy editors. But this one was really problematic because there weren’t just usage issues. Sentences ended in the middle and never picked up again anywhere else. Words in the middle of paragraphs were missing the first letter. There were spacing issues that defied any logic as to why a human being didn’t catch them and, frankly, these problems were distracting.
But there are some reasons why you might want to read this book about a Dead Zombie Bitch and her army of freaks and their quest to bring about the end of the world so they can rule the Earth. First, it is a book wherein a completely different kind of zombie rampages. She is in complete control of her faculties, despite the violence that dominates her mind. She doesn’t shamble. She moves in stop motion. She isn’t mindlessly attacking people for food. She may eventually eat her kills but for Bloody Mary, the confusion and terror she creates, the sort of theater she produces around her kills, is the point of the hunt. She is rotting slowly, but very slowly, reminding me more of an undead, demented Miss Havisham more than she reminds me of anything you will see in a Romero movie. There is something very Biblical to her rage and there is something very Victorian to her rot. She died and came back for reasons that are not entirely clear to me but she is a mythos unto herself. When you read this book, for all its flaws you will not be reading anything derivative.
Second, despite the fact that the book often read like a short story collection got spliced into a novel, within the totality of each story, side story and character, Duza creates interesting characters, creepy situations, unsettling scenarios and some outright terrifying, disgusting prose. I won’t spoil the plot points of what happens to Linda Ludlow, but the way she is finally shown that Tasha is not a delusional spree killer is absolutely sickening, a profoundly disturbing scene. For those who want a fix of nasty, this scene may be worth the price of admission.
But there are other examples of some very good writing. That Duza can write horrific content this well is one of the reasons I didn’t dismiss the book as I muddled through the plot. Take this section where Mary has finally attacked Carl, finding him in the middle of kinky sex with a new girlfriend.
The second blast blew Sharlene’s head apart. The bulk of it ended up all over Carl’s face and in his mouth. The impact threw the remaining flap of Sharlene’s head to the right, where it smacked her shoulder and bounced back. The whole thing happened so fast that poor Sharlene never knew what hit her.
Tightening her hand around the sawed-off, Mary watched in silent ecstasy as Carl bounced from wall to wall, bound to Sharlene’s body, which twitched uncontrollably. His massive arms worked frantically against Sharlene’s flailing limbs. Her fingers grabbed his face and forced their way in and out of his nose and mouth.
“Git her off me! Git her off-a-me!” Carl kept his face turned as far as he could from Sharlene’s and promised himself that he’d never take another breath, not if it meant tasting one more drop of her saline blood. He pretended not to hear the flatulent bursts that accompanied the blood that oozed from her cranium.
Yeah, this may be the worst conclusion of consensual bondage sex I have ever read. Just the horrific implications of being bound, in mid sex act, to a person who got a shotgun blast in the head and is suffering from pre-death brain flailings, is bad enough. Then add in the fact that the sheer indignity of it all, while horrific, is just a little funny, just makes me uncomfortable, and I like it when I am made uncomfortable.
This is not a case of a writer trying to create a horrific scene and having it verge into the ridiculous. Duza, for all the plot failings in this book, has a tight grip on his characters and on the things they do. His horrific slapstick was intentional, to make the reader feel sort of sick as they fight a small grin. There is another example of this, in one of the subplots that was only tangentially related to the rest of the book. Tasha has taken shelter on the run from the Dead Bitch Army in the basement of a bar, where there is what appears to be the dead body of a young black man, shot by the racist proprietor of the bar after he found his daughter having sex with the young man. A couple of days after being shot, the kid, merely brain damaged, rises and goes after the man who shot him. Joe, the racist dad and tavern owner, has greased back hair, really bad aim, and a series of events set his hair on fire:
He knew that it was all over if he fainted. The flames were halfway down his back. STOP! DROP! AND ROLL, YOU IDIOT!
His mind began to wander as it struggled to overcome the pain and fear, both of which worked together to bring him down. Joe tried his best to get a grip on the situation.
1. Need water.
2. The sink behind the bar is broken. You’ve been doing the dishes in the bathroom for the past week.
3. Gotta find something big enough to… God it hurts so bad… something like a toilet…
Joe broke from his daze and sprinted into the bathroom.
Will Joe get the water he needs? Uh oh, his friend Paul is tripping balls on acid in the bathroom, peeing sitting down, when his friend aflame rushes in.
Paul lowered his head to get a look under the stall door.
“Joe?” Paul said, curious. Paul recognized the worn boots and jeans that Joe wore every day.
Paul smelled charred meat. He was hiking his pants up, preparing to stand, when the stall door flew at him and found his teeth.
And that’s where we leave Joe and Paul and are certain Joe’s likely gonna cook some more.
But there are moments of utter creepiness that don’t invoke humor or even attempt to be anything more than just a look at the delirium of horror that Mary’s army can dish out. Again, not discussing it in depth but the torture scene and the aftermath when Linda learns Tasha was telling the truth all along is an upsetting, repellent, effective scene. But being able to marry such mayhem with a sense of the absurd helps when reading a book like this.
So this is how this zombie book boils down: An atypical zombie, a hardcore woman, has a thirst for vengeance I am unclear about and the narrative is muddled with an often unclear plot and irrelevant characters. However, had an editor cleaned this up, Duza’s prose is excellent and with a buzz-killing hellbeast of an editor keeping his active imagination from running amok, I can see Duza’s next book being sound in all respects. But the interesting thing about this book is that while a zombie is the impetus of the action, she is just one character in a book teeming with characters. She is a force of chaos but in a completely different way than brain-dead but flesh-seeking zombies are. She wants an apocalypse but must rely on political unrest to get it. She is a cult symbol, and not at all feared the way a traditional zombie would be (though that’s a mistake for those who are unlucky enough to meet her). Her goal is not to munch intestines but to lure people into her army. But it’s interesting to me that Duza subverts the paradigm, creating chaos with one zombie rather than a hoard and makes her just one character out of many.
So while I cannot unreservedly recommend this book, I think those who like extreme horror will appreciate this book. I also think that rabid zombie fans who must read all zombie books will want to give this a look. I suspect the casual reader may not find this to their liking. For me, I know Duza has other books out there and at least one appears to be a sequel to this book and I intend to check that book out and see if his writing evolved from this effort (and for new readers, I do my best not to know much about authors who are new to me aside from locating their websites to link to them for this blog and I really do my best never to read any one else’s review of a book before I discuss it here). He showed enough raw talent and an eye for an interesting story that bodes well for later efforts.
Tomorrow, I will discuss a book that takes a traditional approach to zombies, and blends it together with plenty of social commentary, literary criticism and the potential frustrations that will come if the only people who survive the zombie apocalypse are vegans. Don’t miss it!