Necropolis PD, Nathan Sumsion (Parvus Press 978-0-99978-423-5, $15.99, 412pp, tp) April 2019.
“Why am I always a few steps behind every conversation I get into?” asks Jake Green, the protagonist of Nathan Sumsion’s Necropolis PD, about halfway through this overlong, rudimentary novel. The potential answers to this question: Jake is an idiot, or Sumsion relies on thin narrative strategies to maintain tension. Or both. Although the novel moves quickly and provides new angles on old supernatural ideas, it’s likely to prove an inadequate challenge to experienced readers.
Necropolis PD takes place in… well, the title says it all: a city of the dead. The citizens are walking-around corpses. But they are not zombies: “Zombies are mindless, shambling meatsacks that shuffle around trying to eat flesh or brains. The people, he was very clear on that, here are alert, intelligent, conscious.” However, the conceit offers many opportunities to add gnarly descriptions to the narrative – flesh stinking and rotting, dried-up skin and missing parts, and what happens when the dead begin to murder the dead.
Because that’s what happens. Actual corpses bereft of consciousness, the dead further deadified, have begun to appear in the city. This is an improbable event. Coincidentally, Jake, a living human with an unusual talent for spotting lies and seeing through glamours, has found himself trapped in the city. The police department hires him to get to the bottom of the murders, and, ultimately, he does. That’s the entire plot of Necropolis PD. There are no subplots, no side quests, no unresolved threads. It’s a whodunit that gets wrapped up cleanly once Jake’s help becomes worthy of the PD’s attention.
Such simplicity might be laudable if the packaging were more competent, but Sumison has a problem with diversity: nearly all the characters are white men, and the women are needlessly objectified (even the dead ones). The prose is punctuated with questions to a degree that makes the book feel like it’s quizzing the reader. It’s never explained why Jake can’t just leave the city and return to his life among the living, since he doesn’t belong and is in constant danger where he is.
Plus, Sumison describes at length, unnecessarily:
He’s got an old, dark gray suit on. Maybe these crumpled, stained suits are standard issue here. I don’t know if he’s wearing the same shirt from last night or not, but it looks familiar and doesn’t smell any fresher. He’s definitely wearing the same tie, though. The stains are in the same pattern.
This description offers no new information about the described character. All it does is fill space. There’s a lot of that in this book, a lot of fat that could have used trimming.
However, Necropolis PD brings into existence a world that’s a little bit off-center from traditional zombie or vampire or ghost narratives, and that world has some promise. The action scenes are zippy and creative. Although Jake didn’t appeal to this reviewer, his self-deprecation and broad humor will likely appeal to other readers, particularly younger ones. In truth, the book could be the start of a pretty fun YA series if it weren’t so gory, but sophisticated readers are going to want something more than this novel can deliver.
Katharine Coldiron is the author of Ceremonials (Kernpunkt Press), an SPD fiction bestseller. Her work as a book critic has appeared in The Washington Post, The Believer, The Guardian, and many other places. She lives in California and at kcoldiron.com.
This review and more like it in the August 2019 issue of Locus.
While you are here, please take a moment to support Locus with a one-time or recurring donation. We rely on reader donations to keep the magazine and site going, and would like to keep the site paywall free, but WE NEED YOUR FINANCIAL SUPPORT to continue quality coverage of the science fiction and fantasy field.