Review: Wet Work

Posted by Cory Casciato On March - 26 - 2010

Philip Nutman was writing zombie apocalypse novels before zombie apocalypse novels were cool. These days, it seems like we get a new one once a week or so, but back in 1993 when he published Wet Work, they were pretty scarce on the ground. The book is held up as an exemplar of the “splatterpunk” movement, meaning it’s gore-drenched and relatively depraved. If you like your zombie fiction that way, then by all means, dive right in.

When comet Saracen unexpectedly shows up in a remarkably close orbit, it’s bad news for life as we know it. Some unknown radiation from the comet has a couple of nasty effects — effects no one notices until it’s too late. First, it raises the dead. Second, it thoroughly fucks the immune system of nearly everyone it touches, turning even common infections into deadly killers. That’s a nearly unbeatable combo and in no time at all, it’s hell on Earth in the form of a full-blown zombie apocalypse.

The story primarily follows the exploits of two men, Dominic Corvino and Nick Packard. Corvino is a top CIA assassin (that’s the “wet work” of the title). Packard is a rookie cop. The remaining characters are largely arranged around these two, with a couple exceptions that amount to disposable vignettes thrown in for color and background. it starts with a mission gone bad for Corvino, including the complications of a couple of living dead gumming things up. Packard’s story provides a ground-level view of the chaos that emerges in the wake of Saracen’s unfortunate effects. Before long, Corvino is turned (not a spoiler, the very first few paegs of story reveal this if you’re paying any sort of attention), zombies are everywhere and it’s zombiegeddon.

The zombies here are a classic Romero with a few unique twists, since at least some of them retain a degree of intelligence after awakening (again, no spoiler, it’s in the first five pages). That leads to a wholly unique vision of the zombie apocalypse, at least for the time it was written (a few books and movies have attempted something similar since). Nutman’s prose is spare and functional, but it does the job of telling his story. The reliance on gore at times seems like something of a crutch, but it never gets obnoxious or gets in the way of his telling of the story. (Also, rumor has it many fans clamored for even more gore, so to each their own).

It’s a lean, fast-paced story that never gets bogged down in unnecessary detail or digressions. For the most part it, from my limited experience with espionage fiction, it feels more like a spy novel with zombies than a horror novel, but that works well for the story. It does have plenty of horrific scenes and passages, so it’s really a matter of style that makes it feel that way than a question of content. It’s bleak as fuck, too, so if you’re looking for something uplifting, look elsewhere. All told, it’s a solid read that’s well worth seeking out if you’ve overlooked it.

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