When your new client looks like an angry NFL defensive end, complete with a nasty scar over one eye, yet the person you’re getting the bad juju from is the beautiful, petite woman with him who’s paying the bill, well, something’s definitely off. Unfortunately, Urbana, Illinois attorney Sam Roberts has no idea how off until he’s in way too deep.
Thomas, his client, has been arrested and charged with selling cocaine. The police seem to have him dead to rights, the sale having been caught on video during a sting. Thomas’s mysterious friend, Chloe, however, is willing to pay handsomely for Sam to do whatever it takes to make the charge go away. You’d think Thomas would be thrilled to have an enthusiastic advocate with a big bankroll backing him, but Sam can’t help but notice Thomas seems to be extremely jumpy around Chloe.
Determined to represent his client well and without external influence, Sam goes to meet with Thomas without Chloe around to see if there’s something Thomas isn’t telling him. Far from being happy to see Sam, Thomas is distraught over the visit, claiming Sam has sealed a fate for him worse than death. When Thomas is found gruesomely murdered shortly after Sam’s visit, minus his head and with Sam’s name written in blood at the scene, Sam finally begins to understand the depth of the mess he’s gotten into. At least he thought he did…until Thomas’s head shows up in his fridge.
Realizing he’s being set up, but not understanding why, Sam enlists a tech wiz friend to help him get to the bottom of things. Unfortunately for them both, before they get to the bottom they’ll be up to their eyes in nightmares about death that come true, crooked cops, and a diabolical pharmaceutical company conducting human experiments with a cocaine derivative based on Nazi science. Oh, and voodoo. Bad, bad voodoo.
I have to admit that going in I wasn’t quite sure exactly what to expect from author Scott Lerner’s debut, Cocaine Zombies. Given the resurgence of zombies in popular culture of late, and the scantily clad come-hither woman on the cover, I wondered if this was going to be some campy mix of drug dealers and a voodoo priestess. It’s not. Not even close. There are, in fact, no zombies in the book at all. Not in the shambling, eat your brains sense anyway. The zombies in Cocaine Zomnies are the people who become addicted to the voodoo-tinged hybrid cocaine being cooked up by a pharmaceutical company with roots that go back to Nazi Germany. And though definitely a gorgeous woman at first blush, Chloe is not who she seems to be.
The physical embodiment of an ancient evil spirit, Chloe sees mankind as a pathetic species bent on self-destruction. No better now than when we first descended from the trees, Chloe thinks it only proper that man be punished for his relentlessly evil nature by being enslaved to the will of the spirits of the dark. Much to his dismay, Sam has, quite by accident, become the last line of defense for mankind. As the Juju priestess he seeks advice and assistance from puts it:
My guess is that Legba does not wish to see the scales of good and evil in the material world tip too much toward evil. So I would assume the problem you are dealing with is far greater than your meaningless existence. I suspect the fate of the world may be in the balance. Not to put too much pressure on you.
Yes, far from being campy, Lerner treats the subject of voodoo seriously and knowledgeably. The roles played by the various spirits, or loa, are explained in the course of Sam’s quest to be rid of Chloe, and the voodoo ceremony in which he participates is disturbing precisely because of the matter-of-fact manner in which it’s presented. And though there are no brain-eating zombies in Cocaine Zombies, there are brains, as there is some fairly graphic violence in this book. It’s not used gratuitously or for shock value, however, but to underscore the horror and danger of the situation Sam finds himself in.
For his part, Sam is a character who is easy to root for. He’s smart (there are some great-accurate-legal scenes), funny without being sarcastic, brave without being reckless, and at the end of the day just wants to go back to his one-man law firm and resume his boring life. He’s gonna have to go through a lot to get there, however, and it’s a very entertaining journey.
Cocaine Zombies is available from Camel Press (ISBN: 978-1603819039).