It’s been a few months since the events of Married With Zombies in which our heroes Sarah and David overcame their marital difficulties in the process of surviving the zombie apocalypse. Since fleeing Seattle, they’ve found a new home in the New Phoenix survivor camp and turned their natural zombie killing skills into a mercenary business, Zombiebusters Extermination Inc.
Amidst rumours of a faster, smarter strain of undead that Sarah dubs “bionic zombies”, the pair find a secret government research lab complete with a mad scientist who claims that he has developed a cure for the zombie plague. The only problem is that he needs “live” zombies to test the cure’s efficacy. Sarah’s hope that the world can still be saved wins out over David’s pessimism and they take on the contract, but things are not what they seem and once again their relationship hangs in the balance.
Flip This Zombie is the second book in Petersen’s Living with the Dead series and is another short-ish book that rattles along at a breakneck pace. Having set the scene in Married With Zombies, Petersen extends her post-apocalyptic world and fixes the by-the-numbers action seen previously but the primary flaws of the first book remain – namely that Sarah is an unlikeable narrator, action takes precedence over character development and there’s not much rom in what is being marketed as a zombie rom-com. In fact, there’s not much com for that matter – “laugh out loud with witnesses on the train funny” this is not.
As before we’re trapped in Sarah’s head and it’s not a nice or funny place to be. She’s still churning out those (un)dead/die/death jokes, remarking that life post-apocalypse was much the same as before: “Well, I still have a dead-end job… undead end, I guess is more accurate.” (p1). Soon afterwards she notes that many of their clients are already dead by the time Zombiebusters arrive on the scene, which seems like a poignant observation before she continues “…but seriously, if you haven’t figured out how to protect yourselves after three months of zombie hell.. well you sort of deserve what you get.” (p3). Things only get better when she and David encounter a kid (hilariously nicknamed “The Kid”) in their attempts to capture a live zombie. Sarah first suggests that they use The Kid as bait and then later, because he gives her some lip, she tells David that they should abandon him in the desert. Nice.
Borderline sociopathic tendencies aside, Rob Berg makes the good point that “it is extremely gratifying to read a zombie story that centers on a kickass female narrator who stands up to the undead horde without fear; who is in a partnership with her husband, rather than simply needing to be rescued by him”. This is all very true, except Petersen undermines Sarah’s independence by having her turn to mush whenever David gets all alpha male and protective, and then compounds that by engineering a situation near the end of the book in which David has to rescue Sarah (for which she mentally promises him a blow-job due to the level of her fuck-up).
The action is better than the first book, if only because it is less repetitive than before, but Petersen concentrates on that too much and so misses the opportunity to take time to develop the background behind Sarah and David’s relationship or even to address how the dynamic between them may have changed since David started taking a more active role in the relationship compared to his pre-apocalypse couch surfing. He’s still a blank slate due to Sarah’s self-obsessed narration and in my view it would be highly interesting to see events from his perspective from time to time ala the Come Together novels of Josie Rees and Emlyn Lloyd (perhaps Petersen could ask her husband to help out).
The Living with the Dead series continues its failure to achieve a good balance between its constituent parts of action, horror, romance and comedy, and after reading two books I don’t think that the third installment of Eat Slay Love will do anything to change that.