Pale Preachers begins with a note from some guys named Finch, Floyd, and Fishboy Lennie, written to their cousin Mal. The note informs Mal that their Grandma Callie is dead, Mal’s sister Lulabelle is the new "witchy woman" of Moon County, and that Mal's help is needed ASAP, so he's to meet them at “that crummy strip joint up the road.”
The four men are not really cousins, and soon enough it's told that Mal and Lulabelle are not really brother and sister. (Good thing, too, as they eventually became lovers.) Also, Fishboy Lennie doesn't have lips, but he does have needle-sharp teeth and flippers, and he's a good cook. He also spends much of his time being carried around in a duffel bag by one of his "cousins."
Mal is being brought home to the swamps of Moon County because Grandma Callie raised him up in the same "witchy ways" that Lulabelle was brought up in - difference is, as soon as Mal got old enough, he ditched all that in an effort to live a life guided by his decisions rather than someone else's. Still, he's got the gift, and right now Moon County needs all the help it can get. The dead are rising - out of the muck, out of shallow graves and sinkholes and deep green waters - and they are wreaking havoc.
Hell yes, this is a Tom Piccirilli book.
Piccirilli, who in 2012 released one of his best books to date (The Last Kind Words) before entering into a no-holds-barred streetfight with brain cancer (which he, thankfully, appears to be winning handily), has one of the most unique voices in genre fiction today, and it's great to see him return to his horror roots after concentrating on crime fiction for the last few years. It's clear he enjoyed the homecoming as well; Pale Preachers is well-stocked with his trademark brand of dark humor, quirky characters, shocking violence and some of the best dialogue this side of a Quentin Tarantino film.
As is usually the case with Piccirilli's work, he may be looking at a familiar trope like zombies, but he’s determined to twist said trope into some fresh, unfamiliar shapes. Here, he cherry-picks the tried-and-true zombie concepts to whip up a new breed of undead. These zombies are a little faster and a little smarter than what you might expect, and they might be here because somebody thought that magic and science would make good bedfellows. They might also be the kind of vessel that certain malevolent forces would snatch up to use for their own purposes, but I’m going to step aside and let Piccirilli fill you in on all of that.
Pale Preachers is one of those books that you gobble down in one breathless session, amazed at the amount of story that’s packed into its compact page count, thoroughly satisfied with the tale that’s been told yet mad that there’s not a hundred more pages just like it. It’s another triumph for the “Print Is Dead” line of zombie books from Creeping Hemlock Press, and another terrific notch in Tom Piccirilli’s belt.
Order Pale Preachers by Tom Piccirilli.
Blu Gilliand is a freelance writer of fiction and nonfiction. He covers horror fiction at his blog, October Country and contributes interviews to the Horror World website. Follow him on Twitter at @BluGilliand.