Slimy Underbelly (Dan Shamble, Zombie P.I. Series #4)

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Slimy Underbelly (Dan Shamble, Zombie P.I. Series #4)

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
09/15/2014
Dan Shamble (last seen in 2013's Hair Raising) is the PI to call when there's trouble in the Unnatural Quarter, and the zombie detective has his hands full with a new sewer-dwelling villain. Readers can get a sense of the humor of the series when they know that the bad guy's name is Ah Chulhu. Gesundheit!
Kirkus Reviews
2014-08-14
Dan Chambeaux, zombie private eye (Hair Raising, 2013, etc.), once again juggles a series of cases as deftly as if he were equipped with the same tireless tentacles as his chief suspect. In the Unnatural Quarter, it's either a feast or an orgy of malefactors. Just as Chambeaux & Deyer's former client, frog demon Lurrm, is celebrating the opening of the Recompose Spa, his smartly refurbished zombie bathhouse, the competition between Alastair Cumulus III and Chambeaux's client Thunder Dick over which of them will be elected head of the Weather Wizards Fraternal Order breaks into open warfare, as each wizard stoops to new lows to undermine the other. Mr. Bignome, head of a ring of garden gnomes that robs flower shops, compounds his felonies by stealing the glorious baritone voice of Stentor, the ogre opera star who's frantic that he'll get fired by The Phantom of the Opera. Twelve-year-old junior mad scientist Jody Caligari seizes the moment to ask Chambeaux to take on a pro bono case: overturning his eviction from the underground lab he'd rented from fearsome Ah'Chulhu, the demon sewer landlord who's the richly tentacled half-breed son of a pair of Senior Citizen Gods. Ah'Chulhu, it turns out, has a tentacle in most every one of Chambeaux's current cases—which may make them easier to solve but certainly doesn't make them any less dangerous. An appended bonus story, "Stakeout at the Vampire Circus," reminds you that the best parts of Chambeaux's waggish adventures are often the early chapters, before the normal zaniness of the Unnatural Quarter gets clogged with criminal mischief. Anderson's obviously found his niche. Readers who share it will be in zombie heaven, or wherever zombies would go if there were life after undeath.
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Product Details

Meet the Author

Kevin J. Anderson
Kevin J. Anderson is the author of more than one hundred novels, 47 of which have appeared on bestseller lists. He has over 23 million books in print in 30 languages. He has won or been nominated for numerous prestigious awards, including the Nebula Award, Bram Stoker Award, the SFX Reader’s Choice Award, the American Physics Society’s Forum Award, and the New York Times Notable Book. He lives with his wife, writer Rebecca Moesta, in their mountain home in Colorado.
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Read an Excerpt

Slimy Underbelly


By Kevin J. Anderson

KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.

Copyright © 2014 WordFire, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-61773-114-3


CHAPTER 1

It was a cold and snowy afternoon in the Unnatural Quarter. The blizzard struck with howling winds and whiteout conditions; temperatures dropped to well below freezing. And we still hadn't recovered from that morning's dust storm and blistering heat.

People say that if you don't like the weather in the Quarter, just wait an hour—especially when the weather wizards are feuding.

I trudged along the sidewalk, braced against the pelting snow and sleet, heading back to the offices of Chambeaux & Deyer Investigations. My sport jacket was not made for the weather, and the biting wind probed like a proctologist's cold finger through the crudely stitched bullet holes in the fabric. My dead skin couldn't much feel the chill, but even embalming fluid will freeze if it gets cold enough.

I stepped in a thick puddle of slush, which soaked my shoes and socks. Sure, I should have worn galoshes. But edgy private investigators don't wear galoshes—not even zombie private investigators. The howling wind nearly tore the fedora off my head, but I used one hand to hold it in place, ducking down as I grumbled about the weather wizards' campaign season, whenthe two candidates felt the need to show off their skills, although I doubted they impressed anybody.

I'd gone out to the Ghoul's Diner for a cup of coffee on a slow afternoon. Before leaving, doing my due diligence, I checked three different, and competing, weather stations. While the giggly brunette and the sculpted Ken-doll-wannabe prognosticators had predicted a range of meteorological phenomena, none of them mentioned anything about a blizzard in the next hour. I should have known not to rely on a weather forecast.

A black-furred werewolf scuttled across the street in front of me, his entire body matted with snow. He huddled under a porch overhang while he fumbled to unlock the door of his walkup, but his clawed fingers were so numb that he dropped the keys in the snow. He growled as he fished around, and when he found them, they were too ice-encrusted to fit in the lock.

No, the weather wizards were not winning any votes here. With Alastair Cumulus III and Thunder Dick campaigning to prove who was the better weathermancer, this unpredictability would go on until Election Day....

The Chambeaux & Deyer offices were only a block away. I can't help my stiff-legged gait, but at least I don't slouch and shuffle like some of those poorly preserved zombies. A guy has to have some measure of pride. I keep myself as fit and limber as possible—considering my condition. There's only so much you can do with a dead body, and rigor mortis has lasting effects. With joint supplements, however, as well as a once-a-month maintenance spell performed by a pair of witches (former clients of mine), I do all right. Some people even consider me handsome in certain light ... preferably dim light. My girlfriend, Sheyenne, certainly thinks so. Admittedly, she's a ghost, but her vision is unimpaired.

A sharp gust blew so hard I could feel snow slipping through the bullet hole in my forehead and into my skull. I had thought about adding more putty before I set out for my cup of coffee, but the day had been deceptively bright and sunny. Now, when I got back indoors and the snow melted inside my head, it was going to slosh around in there and make an annoying sound in my inner ear.

When I reached the door to our building, the whiteout parted in a backlash of wind, and I was surprised to see a figure sitting on the steps, not even trying to get out of the freezing storm. He wore rags and fingerless gloves. His bony knees, visible through holes in his trousers, were drawn up to his chest. A floppy fabric hat was tugged down on ropy clumps of gray hair that looked like dreadlocks but were actually just tangles. His skin was a blotchy assortment of grays, tans, and putrid greens.

"Hello, Mr. Renfeld," I said. "I don't often see you outside of your office." It's always good to stay on cordial terms with your building super.

Despite the blinding snow, Renfeld seemed relaxed and comfortable, and his grin showed a reasonable, though not optimal, number of teeth. He said in a wet, mucousy voice, "Just came out to enjoy the weather."

"This is the type of weather you enjoy?"

He adjusted his knees and let the white wind blast him. "It'll change."

"It'll change," I agreed.

Mr. Renfeld is a ghoul with a bad skin condition and a taste for putrid flesh, but he's nice enough in his own way. I've got nothing against ghouls ... or zombies, ghosts, vampires, werewolves, mummies, demons, witches, or any of the other creatures that haunt (or just inhabit) the Unnatural Quarter.

Renfeld manages the building, which has office space for our agency as well as ten other tenants, most of whom keep their doors barred and windows shuttered—possibly illicit operations or storefronts for sham corporations, or the tenants might just be recluses. I don't do much snooping unless somebody pays me. On the other hand, business had been awfully slow for the past week; maybe I'd satisfy my curiosity after all....

"Finally rented those basement tenements," Renfeld said. "They've been on the market for a while."

"I didn't know you had basement tenements for rent." I didn't know we had basement tenements at all ... and I'd never even been in the building's basement.

"Couldn't afford to advertise. I just spread word on the street and under it," Renfeld said. "When I finally added a new building entrance, that did the trick. Best investment I ever made."

Snow swirled around me as I stood on the front step. If I were sensible, I'd get inside out of the wind, but I was having a good conversation. "There's a new entrance? I heard all the banging and construction. As the cliché goes, it was enough to wake the dead."

"Sorry about the noise," Renfeld said.

"Don't worry about it. These days it doesn't take much to wake the dead. They're mostly light sleepers." As a detective, though, I might need to have an alternate entrance so that I could sneak in or out of our offices without being seen; I wanted to know my options. "Where is the new door?"

Renfeld pointed a gray finger toward his feet. "Down below, direct access to the sewer system—lots of demand for that. Your regular key should work."

"Good to know. I could have taken an underground shortcut and stayed out of the snowstorm." In a hurry to get inside now, I tipped my fedora to Mr. Renfeld, dumping the accumulated white slush on the step. "Enjoy the weather."

Renfeld continued to grin, looking up at the sky. "I'm anxious to see what's next. I hope it gets blustery. Nothing beats a blustery day."

As I entered the building, a gust of wind slammed the door shut behind me. I stomped the residual snow from my feet, once again ruing the fashion considerations that precluded edgy detectives from wearing sensible protective footgear. But, alas, style trumps sense every time. I reached our offices on the second floor, CHAMBEAUX & DEYER INVESTIGATIONS painted right on the door. It would have made my mother proud, if my mother had ever cared. I was content to be proud for myself. Maybe this wasn't the glamorous career I'd once dreamed of, but detective work paid the bills. And I wasn't getting any younger—or any more alive.

Sheyenne hovered at her desk to greet me with a sparkling smile on her luminous, half-substantial visage. She's a gorgeous blonde with big blue eyes and a great figure, and she's even smarter than she is beautiful. We no longer have a physical relationship, since she no longer has a physical body, but we satisfy ourselves with an ectoplasmic one, and sometimes that's pretty damn good.

She frowned at my blizzard-modified state. "Beaux, you shouldn't be out in weather like that—you'll catch your death."

"Already caught it." I removed my fedora and shook the snow from my sport jacket before hanging it on the rack next to the door. "I'll dry out."

"Nothing wrong with being moist and dank, ayup—that's what I always say." The burbling voice came from our conference room just off the main reception area.

Seated at the long table was a frog demon the size of a small man. He had glistening green skin with black leopard spots. His golden eyes were the size of softballs, and twitchy nictitating membranes flickered up and down over them. He wore a frock coat with a high collar to show he was a respectable businessman.

Across the conference table, my partner, Robin Deyer, stacked manila folders and removed the last few sheets of paper. Robin's a lawyer, but not a typical one. She has a heart and a compassionate streak a mile wide. "We've almost wrapped up Mr. Lurrm's file, Dan—all the i's dotted and t's crossed, signed in slime and duly notarized."

When the amphibious creature chuckled, his lower throat ballooned out. "Please just call me Lurrm, Ms. Deyer—no need to use Mister. We're all friends here, and besides, I'm in my androgynous phase. Ayup." His throat billowed out and back. "I'm so excited about this I can barely restrain myself from exuding ooze."

I think the frog demon was smiling, but with a mouth that wide it was hard to tell. "Open for business: the improved, refurbished, and totally legitimate Zombie Bathhouse. Ayup! The sign with our new name got installed yesterday. Recompose Spa." He rubbed his soft hands together. "We did our VIP sneak preview last week as a shakedown for new customers, and today we're open to the public."

"If any customers can make it through this weather," Robin said. "The weather networks can't agree on when the blizzard will end."

"The weather anchors can't agree on what temperature water freezes," Sheyenne said.

Lurrm puffed his throat again. "The blizzard might help business. If you're frozen and crusted with ice, there's nothing like a good soak in a hot-springs pool. Ayup."

The Zombie Bathhouse had once been a front for the evil body-parts smuggler, Tony Cralo, an obscenely fat zombie gangster. After Cralo's downfall, the Zombie Bathhouse shut down and fell into rapid and dank disrepair, until Lurrm and his investors refurbished it.

The frog demon hopped from his chair and stood on powerful legs, adjusting his frock coat. "I know the place had a bad reputation, but I plan to change that." He was a bouncy sort. His long tongue flicked in and out of his mouth in excitement. "The Recompose Spa will be a family place, absolutely no underworld connections, everything aboveboard." When Lurrm shuddered, the leopard spots danced on his slick skin. "And everything disinfected regularly. Nobody's going to get warts from my bathhouse!"

"I thought frogs and warts went hand in hand," I said.

Lurrm blinked his nictitating membranes. "That's just an old wives' tale, Mr. Chambeaux. Toads cause warts, and don't let any of them tell you otherwise. They're rather sensitive about it."

Robin searched through several manila folders and brought out a certificate for Lurrm. "Recompose is one hundred percent legitimate. Your business license, sales tax forms, health certificate, OSHA clearances, immersion waiver forms — everything you need."

"I'm very grateful for your assistance, Ms. Deyer." Delighted, the amphibious creature turned to me, jittering up and down. "We even have an employee manual! I insist that you all come and take a look tomorrow. I promise a tour and special discounts. Ayup."

Robin handed over all the forms, licenses, and certificates he needed, including a leather-bound corporate manual and a hand-press seal (which might be a challenge for the frog demon with his squishy fingers). "We're very supportive of our clients. We'll be there."

"Weather permitting," I added.

The frog demon bundled up in his frock coat and left our offices prepared to face the cold and snow, but by now the clouds had vanished and been replaced by dense fog.

When the offices were quiet again, I realized I didn't have anything to do. "Slow day," I said.

Sheyenne said with the flirtatious lilt that she used just for me, "If you're that bored, we could spend more time together."

"We always spend time together. Almost all day, every day."

"Quality time."

"Every second with you is quality, Spooky."

"Good save." She picked up a set of folders and drifted off to the file cabinet.

I was eager for another exciting mystery. Solving cases is what makes me tick—in fact, I don't do much else with my life, or afterlife. I define myself by being a detective, zombie or otherwise. But I needed something more glamorous than preparing business licenses and health department forms.

Robin wrapped up the paperwork for the Recompose Spa and put all the folders on Sheyenne's desk. "This may not be exciting, Dan, but cases like this are our bread and butter. Our workload is just like the weather—wait a few minutes and it'll change."

And it did.

CHAPTER 2

When a huge, hulking ogre steps through the office doorway, you take notice. I was just glad he decided to turn the knob and enter the traditional way instead of smashing through, as ogres often do.

He was huge (I know I already said that, but it bears repeating), with burly shoulders, pebbled gray skin, muscles the size of backpacks, shaggy hair like a dried kelp forest, and a mouth as big as a garage. He wore a brown tunic tied at the waist with a jaunty yellow sash. The bags under his eyes were so large they wouldn't have qualified as carry-ons. He was covered with melting snow from the recent blizzard.

I greeted him with my professional smile. "New client?" I asked.

The ogre moved his mouth and puffed his chest. "I am Stentor." I expected a deafening roar, but the voice that came out was a ridiculously tiny, high-pitched squeak. "The opera singer. You may have heard of me?"

Such a clumsy voice would never have graced even a Sunday school stage for fourth graders. "Sorry, sir, my knowledge of opera doesn't go much further than 'Kill da Wabbit!' "

Sheyenne drifted forward, letting out an exaggerated sigh. "Beaux, I am going to get you more cultured if it kills you. Again. Stentor has been performing to sold-out audiences in the Phantom's opera house for the past two months. He caused quite a stir in the cultural scene."

"The most fabulous performance by an ogre opera singer in weeks!" Stentor squeaked. "That's according to the National Midnight Star. "

"Know your client" is a good catchphrase, and I was sure I would have to research opera and the ogre's career. Sheyenne wanted to make me a better man, a better zombie, and I liked being with her. She had already dragged me to performances of Shakespeare in the Dark, and since I cared about her, I would even endure an opera. If I was with my beautiful ghost girlfriend, it couldn't be all that bad ... could it?

With fist clenched and arm raised, Stentor tilted his enormous head back and belted out a succession of meepy atonal noises that contained neither sturm nor drang. After the abortive performance, the ogre hung his head, sniffled with the sound of a malfunctioning vacuum cleaner, and began blubbering. He sobbed with such palpable dismay that I felt sorry for him without even knowing the problem. Tears flowed down his seamed face in rivulets, like a potential flash flood. "It's gone. I've lost it."

"Lost what?" I was pretty sure I knew, but never having attended an ogre opera, I wanted confirmation.

Stentor blinked his huge bloodshot eyes at me. "Are you deaf? My voice is gone!" I had to lean forward to hear him. "Someone stole it, kidnapped it—you've got to help me. I'll do anything to get it back."

Now this was more like it, a case I could sink my teeth into (if I were the sort of creature who sinks his teeth into uncooperative flesh). I preferred to use brains, not eat them. "You've come to the right place, Mr. Stentor."

I started to direct the ogre toward my office, but realized the office wasn't large enough unless I moved the desk to accommodate him. So we went into the much larger conference room to talk. The ogre shook himself off like a shaggy, waterlogged dog, sending sprays of snowmelt everywhere.

Robin emerged from her office to join the intake meeting, where we could decide whether Stentor would need her legal expertise, my detective skills, or both. She held a yellow pad, ready to take notes—a special legal pad, given to her by Santa Claus himself after we helped him out on a case. The paper never, ever ran out, and a magically connected pencil took notes for her exactly as she thought them, which left Robin's hands free to do other incomprehensible lawyerly things.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Slimy Underbelly by Kevin J. Anderson. Copyright © 2014 WordFire, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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  • Posted September 7, 2014

    2.5 stars Kevin J. Anderson's Dan Shamble, Zombie PI series has

    2.5 stars

    Kevin J. Anderson's Dan Shamble, Zombie PI series has received "2 decaying thumbs up" from Jonathan Maberry, one of my favorite authors, so I had already purchased (but not yet read) the first three books when I stumbled upon Slimy Underbelly on NetGalley. This gave me the push I needed to start the series, and I read them all in order (alternating with "palate cleansers" in other genres to avoid the possibility of familiarity breeding contempt by the time I got to Slimy Underbelly).

    My response to all four books was the same: they're OK quick reads, but nothing in them compels me to continue following the series. When each book in a series has its own self-contained plot, what keeps the reader coming back is either (1) interesting and well-developed characters whom the reader cares about, or (2) intriguing mysteries to challenge the reader and bring her back to see what the author has come up with next. Unfortunately, neither is present in the Dan Shamble, Zombie PI series. All of the characters are flat, the solutions to the mysteries are not surprising, and the humor just becomes more juvenile (and less amusing) with each successive volume.

    I would not describe this series as a waste of a reader's time, but for those looking for a fun series with supernatural detectives, I recommend John G. Hartness's Black Knight Chronicles instead.

    I received a free copy of Slimy Underbelly through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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