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Damned If You Do

Damned If You Do

4.5 2
by Gordon Houghton

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Hades is dead and the Agency needs a replacement, a new apprentice to carry on its good work. After a vote, corpse number 72 18 9 11 12 13 49 is selected and promptly yanked from his grave, to serve a seven day trial sentence. Each day our hapless narrator is to assist Death in the killing of one unfortunate soul, but as he encounters each victim, and as he begins


Hades is dead and the Agency needs a replacement, a new apprentice to carry on its good work. After a vote, corpse number 72 18 9 11 12 13 49 is selected and promptly yanked from his grave, to serve a seven day trial sentence. Each day our hapless narrator is to assist Death in the killing of one unfortunate soul, but as he encounters each victim, and as he begins to grasp the functions of Death and the other three modern-day Horsemen, he begins to unlock strange memories of his own prior life. It is not until he understands the backhanded politics of the Four Horsemen's run-down row house, and the sinister circumstances of his predecessor's demise, that he can recognize his true purpose in, well, er, life...

Editorial Reviews

Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers
Gordon Houghton's Damned If You Do swings eerily between black humor and utter terror. When our deceased narrator's number is (literally) called, he is pulled out of his coffin to work for "The Agency" as an "Apprentice to Death." Stuck in a zombie-zone midway between life and death, he "exists in a kind of existential purgatory-a state correctly referred to as undead." But life as a zombie isn't easy. He misses the comfort and security of his coffin. However, with the help of Death's right-hand men (the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: War, Skirmish, Pestilence, and Famine), he comes to learn the ropes.

The next seven days are devoted to helping Death dispose of his unfortunate victims in the most unpleasant of ways. From the hysterically slapstick, "Death Due to an Incredible Sequence of Unfortunate Accidents" to "Death by Asphyxiation" where our hero watches in horror as one of his former lovers is buried alive, memories of his own former life come flooding back, ultimately leading (where else?!) to his own grisly demise. Through it all, Death's little helper realizes that being a zombie isn't great-but it's a whole lot better than being dead-and decides to live.

We can promise you've never read anything quite like Damned If You Do, a wholly original, mordantly morbid, darkly humorous ride through life, death, and everything in between.

Jim Krusoe
Damned If I Do creates the happy effect of never hearing the same chord progression twice. It's amazingly easy to keep on reading, as the stories shift from naturalistic to philosophic to surreal. All of them are welcoming, and each invites the reader to participate in the act of discovery, not out of obsession or false intimacy, but through a free-flowing generosity that engages not only the heart but the mind.
— The Washington Post
Kirkus Reviews
A brash and often gruesomely funny debut novel from England, offering the first-person testimony of a zombie. The nameless narrator is the loser in a lottery held by the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (Death, Famine, Pestilence, and War) to find a successor to Hades, Death's assistant, who has been assassinated. Removed from his grave in Oxford, where he has been residing comfortably, if without much stimulation, for several years, our hero learns that he is to be given a tryout, lasting for one week, during which he'll accompany Death on his rounds. If he fails, he'll be sent back to his grave for good. Pythonesque slapstick abounds in subsequent developments. Despite their grisly looks, the Horsemen are more like squabbling career bureaucrats than supernatural figures. They've given up horses in favor of battered cars. They use computers to track their clients. They tend to blame each other when their assignments go wrong—as they often do. An attempt to release a new plague germ during a screening of (what else?) Bergman's The Seventh Seal fails, and Death greatly annoys the audience by laughing uproariously at his portrayal on screen. The Four Horsemen constantly try to outmaneuver each other and impress ‘The Chief,' who is never seen and communicates only through terse memos. Over the course of his trial week, the narrator begins to recover his past: he was a private investigator, murdered by his lover's husband. Musings on his adoration of this woman, and on his otherwise unremarkable life, tend to be lengthy and tiresome. But his desperate scheme to quit the Horsemen and reenter life—which involves (of course) challenging Death to a chess match—israthertouching. Uneven, hectic, sometimes decidedly adolescent. Nonetheless, the author gets points for audacity, and for reinventing the Four Horsemen as a perpetual vaudeville act.

Product Details

Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.68(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

It could be you

Hades was dead — no doubt about it — and he wasn't coming back this side of the Last Judgement. They found his body one bright Sunday morning in July, lying face-down in a thicket by the river. His Agency badge was missing. His face was unrecognizable. He had been eviscerated.

    No-one could agree how it happened. Death blamed War, of course; and War openly accused Pestilence. Pestilence, for his part, secretly suspected Famine — and Famine believed the other three were engaged in a conspiracy against him. An early-morning jogger, who witnessed the crime from behind a mulberry tree, and barely escaped with his life, swore that he saw three wild dogs crashing through the bushes and bounding back along the track towards town. Only one person knew the whole story, and he wasn't telling.

    Whatever the truth, the fact remained — Hades was dead, and the Agency needed a replacement. An emergency meeting was held, a resolution was passed, and the traditional method for selecting a new recruit was agreed upon. In the converted attic of a two-storey town house overlooking the meadow, the Unholy Tombola began: Pestilence emptied a bag of coloured balls into a revolving wooden drum, Famine turned the handle, and Death removed the balls and read out the numbers.

    'Seventy-two ... Eighteen ... What's this — a six?' He showed the ball to Famine, who tutted loudly.

    'It's a nine.'

    'Lucky bugger,' said War. He was slouched at the computer desk, typing in the numbersas they were announced, his manner increasingly irritable. 'Looks like it's a 'cking local. Just down the road.'

    'Let's hope it's better than the last one,' Pestilence remarked.

    'Couldn't be worse,' Famine concurred.

    'Do you mind?' Death interrupted. 'OK. Eleven ... Twelve ... Thirteen — what are the chances of that?' Pestilence rolled his eyes and feigned a yawn; no-one else responded. 'And finally, the bonus number ... Forty-nine.'

    Everyone turned towards War, who entered the last number with a listless tap, then nodded and mumbled to himself as he scanned the on-screen information. 'Right ... He's a Code Four male. Twenty-eight ...' He laughed. 'Bloody typical — no name, no family, and no friends ... Interesting case, though—'

    'Just tell me where he's buried,' Death snapped.

    War gave him his most apocalyptic glare, but spoke coolly. 'St Giles cemetery.' He paused. 'Has the Chief done you a contract?'

    'Of course.'

    'Have you got a spade?' Pestilence sneered.


    'Make sure you find the right grave,' Famine added, weakly.

    Death smiled at him, like an indulgent uncle with a Sabatier hidden behind his back.

What People are Saying About This

Jonathan Carroll
…a witty, mad, ultimately touching book…(Jonathan Carroll, author of The Marriage of Sticks

Meet the Author

Gordon Houghton attended Oxford University and currently lives in England. He is also the author of the novel, The Dinner Party. Dammed If You Do is his first book to be published in America.

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Damned If You Do 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Death needs a new apprentice & corpse #72 18 9 11 12 13 49 is the chosen winner. This book is a quirky 'behind the scenes' look at death & the 'circumstances' that may cause it. Altho this book did not capture me to the point of losing sleep to finish it, I did find myself thoroughly engrossed in the recount of the Corpse's 'trial' 7-day period w/the four 'horsemen' of death, & his slow remembrance of his past life. Written w/a very humorous wit, I would recommend this book to anyone who has an open mind & doesn't take the afterlife too seriously.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Gordon Houghton's first person narrative of the trials and tribulations of an undead apprentice and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse is filled with humor, irony, and wit. His style is electric and his imagination is vivid. Seven days in the life of a zombie and every moment I felt as if I might bump into the narrator on the street, in an elevator, or on the subway while I was engrossed in this novel. I have only good things to say about this book. It representsan inventive way of looking at the afterlife, something which normal people (including me) fear. Houghton is impressive and hauntingly comic.