In spite of an awkward (if apt) title Guy Adams’ Deadbeat: Makes You Stronger (Titan Books) proves an engagingly dark humoured piece of paperback pulp. The first in a series featuring Tom Harris, the owner of a jazz club jokingly entitled Deadbeat, and his friend Max Jackson, a former struggling actor who seems to be at loose ends in this book, Stronger opens with our heroes happening on some sinister late-night doings. Stopping outside a church after a night of imbibing, the duo spies a group of men carrying a coffin that appears to have a still-breathing woman in it. As much to alleviate their boredom (“The days were starting to get a little bit monotonous for both of us.”) as to thwart some seeming skullduggery, our heroes decide to poke around the mystery. Their ham-fisted investigation leads them to the villainous Doctor Herbert Snowdon, who apparently forgot the “first do no harm” clause in his medical training.
The bulk of Adams’ first series entry is alternatively narrated by Max and Tom and fairly quickly establishes their characters. The latter is a jazz aesthete who fancies himself more urbane than he actually is, while Max is more sarcastically self-deprecating. One more piece of pertinent info: both are living deadmen who have been revived for reasons neither can yet explain. They’re part of a community of “reanimates” (“You so much as mention the ‘Z’ word and I’ll shove your head in.”) residing in a northwest borough of London, passing off as otherwise unremarkable city blokes. In Stronger, we learn the events surrounding Max’s demise – which prove horrific in its aftermath – although we’re not provided as much info about his buddy. Perhaps that’s been saved for the upcoming second volume Dogs of Waugh.
Max and Tom’s debut adventure moves along snappily, though there’s a moment where author Adams shifted from first to third person narrative that proved a bit jarring for this reader. (Rather reminded me of Stephen King’s Christine where the author, realizing he’d written himself into a corner, abruptly shifted storyteller perspective.) His villains, Snowdon and his crew, prove to be total blackguards, though we don’t really worry too much for our heroes’ safety since, you know, they’re already dead and all. Still, there are some strong unsettling sequences between the wisecrackery that help to ground this book – there’s a chapter written from the PoV of that woman in the coffin which is pure horrorshow – and get me wondering just what kinds of predicaments the lads will get into with the next volume.