Philip Nutman is a name rarely known outside the zombie genre circles, but that could be just the fact that he hasn’t written much in terms of novels since his explosive debut with his novel Wet Work. The novel was born out of the short story of the same title that was part of the 1989 zombie short story collection, Book of the Dead. Philip Nutman took the interesting twist on the zombie tale in that short story and blew it up to novel length and epic proportions which brings to mind George A. Romero’s grand opus work, Dawn of the Dead.
The novel begins with one of the lead protagonists, Dominic Corvino (CIA covert operator and part of the black op and wetwork team code-named Spiral), barely living through a botched mission in Panama City and realizing that there might be a traitor not just within the team and but in the CIA as well. At the same time all of this was occurring the comet Saracen begins its close pass by of the the planet and leaving behind a gift which would begin the clock to humanity’s downfall and damnation.
It is back in the U.S. where the action really starts to go into overdrive as the effects of Saracen’s pass-by of the planet begins to turn what should’ve been a normal day for D.C. cop Nick Packard into a decent into the hell that only grew worse with each passing day. Random, violent incidents begin to flood the station call-lines. It’s the beginning of the zombie pandemic which starts off with a handful of attacks but which begins to spread in a geometric rate as each death returns to a semblance of life with only the extreme hunger for human flesh their only want or need. Most of the zombies were of the George A. Romero slow, shambling types but Nutman throws a wrench into the whole machine by allowing certain strong-willed individuals to return fully cognizant of their faculties and memories but at the same time harboring the same hunger as their slower and dumber cousins. These intelligent zombies will soon include Dominic Corvino as one of their numbers. As he battles his own hunger Corvino goes on a vendetta mission to take out those who betrayed him and his team in Panama City and whose new lease on unlife has turned the battle of the humans against the zombies into a slaughterhouse where the livings humans are both outnumbered and outgunned. It doesn’t help that another side-effect of Saracen’s pass-by of the planet was to lower the immune system of all humans worldwide. If the dumb and intelligent zombies do not get the humans then infection and disease of all kinds would finish the job.
Nick Packard gives the reader a point-of-view from the battleground itself. We see the world he knew fall apart around him as horrific scenes bombard him and his fellow officers at every turn. He also has to worry about his own wife who he has left behind at their D.C. suburban home before the crisis broke out. He, too, has his own mission to accomplish as law and order quickly crumble and fall around him and his brothers-in-arms. He now has the singular goal to reach his wife and hope that she has lived through the nightmare the world has turned into.
As the story progresses to its inevitable conclusion, both Corvino and Packard’s paths will cross and both men will have to settle their score with the powers-that-be who seem to have accepted the new order in the world and have adapted quite fast from protecting and serving the people to feeding on them.
The book has its share of flaws that at times belie the fact that Nutman was new to this novel-size writing. The dialogue would become very cliched and purple in prose. I didn’t mind the extreme level of gore (it’s a zombie novel and I expected it, in fact) and violence, but the description of sex in the book seemed forced and too much like something out of bad fan fiction to be believable. It just goes to show that it is much easier to write about violence and gore than it is to write a good sex scene. The story could’ve needed another hundred pages or so, as hard to believe as that might be. The story had a very consistent fast pacing which suddenly went warp-speed in the final 80-90 pages.
In the end, even with the flaws in the story I thoroughly enjoyed reading Wet Work and was completely engrossed by its mixture of apocalyptic horror, 80′s action thriller-style action sequences and splatterpunk excesses. It’s a shame that Philip Nutman hasn’t written more horror since he certainly seems to have a talent for it. I’ve read his comic book writing and they’re very good to great which just makes it even more baffling he doesn’t write more. I would recommend this book to all zombie fans who haven’t read it yet. The book delivers as advertised and doesn’t try to be anything but a rip-roaring, action-horror tale which will leave the reader exhausted but still wanting the story to continue even past the final scene of judgement day by way of nuclear fire.