Urban Fantasy Review: ‘Death Ain’t But A Word’ by Zander Marks

To me this is the perfect example of Urban Fantasy done right.  A tight and focused book, it picked a small element of supernatural to work with and then built an amazing story around it.  Strong imagery that excels in its simplicity, smart and realistic dialog, and a never bloated, always compelling plot.  

Wilkin is homeless and a crackhead, but he isn’t crazy.  He started seeing ghosts long before he ever ‘flew to Peru.’  We first meet him helping a friend rob a house, knowing the owner is in the hospital.  Immediately we know he may not be perfect, but he tries to still do right; he peels off enough cash from a hidden stash to convince his friend of a successful robbery while leaving the majority in the house.  Staying at a trashed out hotel that night he sees the ghost of his childhood friend, and his hard life starts to spin a whole new direction.


Turns out his friend was murdered years before, but for reasons unknown the murderer is suddenly buying the hotel in order to erase the last of the evidence.  Wilkin digs up his friend’s skull and starts running.  The journey will include, a crazy trucker, a famous lawman from the Wild West, and a little old lady with wit sharper than a knife.

There is so much to love about this book.  While there is nothing novel about a talented person who sees ghosts, almost everything else about the setting is practically one of a kind.  Homeless drug abusers in Dallas are not the typical UF cast.  A unique setting along does not a good book make, but lucky for a reader, there is more to love.  Wilkin is an incredibly engaging character, and his love for his childhood friend is surprisingly moving.  His rap sheet does nothing to hide his large heart, and the already well-conceived conclusion to the book is so much better because of the strength of his character.
 
Some other characters are just as strong.  Dead childhood friend Humphrey is something different; a nice counter point to the ‘forever innocent’ thought of children, without ever going into silly horror movie territory.  The psychopath chasing Wilkin may be a little overwhelmingly evil, but his obsession kept me hooked page after page.  Most other characters are vessels to move Wilkin on, but each fits their role well, and most have something distinct about them to make them seem more like people that plot devices.

The plot itself moves at a fast pace and is basically a couple of interwoven revenge tales.  As the title points out, death is only one small part of life.  Wilkin meets others who can see ghosts as well; he learns but refuses take part in what they do to keep the peace between the living and dead.  While raw and gritty with a decent amount of violence, the author never is gratuitous with it.  Early on even the narrator swears pretty regularly, though that aspect seemed to lessen as the book continued. 

Oh, the conclusion!  Even some great books run out of steam, but not this one.  As mentioned above it fit perfectly with Wilke’s growth throughout the book.
 
Because I am a nitpicker I will point out the few small issues I had.  Every character from Dallas seemed to have an important place in the story, but when Wilke reached Kansas the same could not be said.  One cop was added, then disappeared without making any impact to the story.  And while most the major questions were answered, the exact duties and territories of ‘yardwalkers’ are vague and unanswered by the end.

5 Stars

This book was gifted to me by the author through Goodreads.  In no way did this influence my review; the book was really this good.

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