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The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society
Miscellanea and Ephemeron

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08/12/2008 Archived Entry: "Book review: Empty Graves: A Murphy's Lore After Hours Collection, Volume 2"

Empty Graves: A Murphy's Lore After Hours Collection, Volume 2
By Patrick Thomas
Padwolf Publishing, 2008

Review by Ida Vega-Landow

A famous comedian once said upon his deathbed, "Dying is easy, comedy is hard". Well, according to the dozen zombie tales assembled in this slender volume, dying is the easy part. It's what comes after that's hard, upon the living and the dead, especially when the dead come back as zombies. But seriously, folks, Patrick Thomas is one of my favorite living authors, a talented local boy who knows how to mix horror with comedy even better than Stephen King. Now if only he were as popular as Stephen King, he'd be a best selling author. He might also be able to get his books decently proofread before they're released.

But that's a minor drawback, easily forgiven in this collection of whimsical fables from the mythical bar known as Bulfinche's Pub, located somewhere in New York City, where a human bartender named John Murphy writes about the regular customers and the staff, whose names are legend, or soon shall be. Those of you who are already acquainted with the world of Murphy's Lore will recognize the starring characters in each story. I'll just highlight my favorites.

"A Bullet for the Dead" features Soul for Hire Vince Argus, the Devil's Hitman, who takes contracts out on people who deserve it; murderers, rapists, child molesters, anybody who's broken the law and gotten away with it because of money and influence, or because they're too clever to be caught and the cops have no proof. Having sold his soul to the Devil for the ability to avenge his murdered family, Argus never misses his target. But even he finds it a challenge to kill someone who's already dead, when he discovers that Jacob McMillian, the low-level loan shark he's been hired to kill by the grieving widow of his victim, has had a voodoo spell put on him that makes him immune to bullets, knives, and plain brute force. If you shoot him in the head, he just plucks out the bullet. If you spray him with armor-piercing bullets from a distance, his spattered remains just flow together like mercury and rejoin, right down to the tiniest spots of blood. Even punching him in the gut only makes him grunt, and the effect on the puncher is like hitting a brick wall. Not to mention his unpleasant habit of eating people who try to kill him. As he tells Argus, "That's the one drawback of being a zombie—the damn hunger for human flesh, but I can live with that. Or not live with it, as is the case." Yep, Vince definitely finds it a challenge to stop this dead man from walking. But he does, in a way that will make you stop, think and shudder every time you pass a group of construction workers laying a concrete sidewalk, especially if the cement is pink.

One of the funniest stories, "Give Me Love", stars my favorite mortal bartender John Murphy and Moni the Lasa, or Graveyard Angel. She's not really an angel; Lasa are minor pagan deities, black-winged guardians of the dead who've been around "since before the Roman Empire conquered their first neighbor", according to Moni. Most of those stone angels you see in the cemetery standing vigil over a grave are really Lasa. They're supposed to live in cemeteries, but since Moni is half human on her father's side (he owns a funeral home; I guess he met his wife during business hours), she lives more conventionally in an apartment she rents from Mr. Hex, the magi who can perform any magic (more about him later). When she finds out that someone has opened a brothel stocked with dead women, she needs a man to help her infiltrate the necrophilic cathouse, and Murphy is kind enough to volunteer. At first dead jokes fly faster than Moni's feathers in a stiff breeze (like "Right, Murphy, I bet yer date is drop dead gorgeous," says his boss Paddy, the leprechaun who owns Bulfinches' Pub), but when it turns out that the dead prostitutes are equipped with charmed necklaces that not only make them "livelier" during intercourse, but enables their pimp to order them to kill any customer who gets too inquisitive, then it's not so funny. At least not to Murphy; I was pretty tickled reading about him running around a canopied bed trying to get away from a zombie hooker, while Moni keeps trying to stop her and getting thrown like a cowgirl from a bucking bronco.

Now I have to mention Patrick Thomas' bad habit of sprinkling his stories with spelling and grammatical errors. I found most of them in this story alone. Little things like "you're" for "your" ("So you figure you're fiancée would be happier if you kept your liaisons limited to the dead?"), confusing misspellings, not indicating who is saying what at the beginning of a long paragraph, one that would leave the speaker breathless if said out loud due to the lack of pauses indicated by commas. Not to mention forgetting little details mentioned earlier, like a gory description of a demon-possessed baby in "The Hand That Rocks The Grave", starring Mr. Hex, that slays one of her caretakers and eats part of her brain, then rips off one of her arms to use as a club, only to end up fleeing in the body of the dead woman after the baby's body is burned by Hex, who does mention that a woman missing half her brain is sure to stand out, but forgets to mention she is also missing an arm.

I hate to quibble over such things, but damn it, I'm a Virgo, and I hate seeing even the smallest flaws in a written work of fiction that I enjoy so much. I'm also a Catholic school survivor, and I've had good grammar drilled into me by a series of nuns determined to make sure that my parents' Spanish accents were not passed on to their Nuyorican offspring. Patrick is Irish, so I'm guessing that he probably survived Catholic school too. So how come you can't double-check your spelling and grammar before you publish your stories, Patrick? At least use the Spell-check function on your computer, for God's sake! Or have someone else read the manuscript for you and circle the errors with a red pen, so you'll know where to retype. Hell, I'd do it for you myself if I wasn't so busy with my own writing! Don't hate me for being honest about your literary shortcomings; you know I do it out of love. But in the future, please, please, PLEASE hire a proofreader before you let your brainchildren out to play! Kids with messy hair, wrinkled clothing and unzipped pants look like their mother doesn't care, and I'm sure you care very much about your stories and the impression they make upon new readers.

Now that I got that off my chest, let me go on praising Caesar instead of burying him. If "Give Me Love" is one of the funniest stories, "The Zombie of Orge Rock" is one of the saddest, and the hardest to read. At least it was for me. It's about Terrorbelle, the half-orge, half-pixie gal, one of the regulars at Bulfinches'. I knew about her sad past from Patrick's other books, how she was raped as a child by one of the soldiers of Thandau, the tyrant who took over Faerie until he was overthrown by Queen Mab's rebel army, led by the Daemor, an elite corp of female warriors. But "The Zombie of Orge Rock" goes into explicit detail about that terrible day when Belle and her mother were taken captive. Turns out it wasn't one soldier who raped eleven-year-old Belle, it was seven of them, and they raped her mother too. Not satisfied with brutalizing a mother and a child, they kill Belle's mother and resurrect her as a zombie, on Thandau's orders. Seems he needs ogres to turn into zombies as a secret weapon. But this is one weapon that turns on its wielder, as Belle's zombified mother proves that a mother's love is stronger than death.

It was much pleasanter reading about Terrorbelle as an adult in NYC, when she meets "Zombielicious", a zombie making a "living" as an internet stripper. She has her very own website, where she strips and talks dirty for necrophiliacs. "I get ten bucks a minute for the first five and five a minute after that, sometimes from up to a dozen guys at a time. For a monthly fee, they can join the Zombielicious Fan Club and download pictures and old videos," she explains to Belle at a coffee shop over a cup of coffee and a raw hamburger. Zombies need to eat raw meat to sustain themselves, but it doesn't have to be human meat, thank God. Zombielicious, or Maya, her given name, has a very pale complexion, which is a good thing in a zombie with a soul like she is, because only zombies who eat human flesh have rosy cheeks. Unfortunately she also has a jealous husband, the same one who raised her from the dead the same day she died, and when he finds out she's been screwing his brother on the side he tries to kill her for real. That's where Belle comes in, along with a couple of New York's Finest, a skeptical EMT, and a few hundred zombified rats that Maya's husband also raised. You have to read it to believe it. Murphy would have had a ball with all the puns he could have made regarding Zombielicious and her lifestyle. Or should that be deathstyle?

All of Patrick's stories bear his unmistakable style of writing, errors and all, whether they're funny, sad, or just plain horrific, like "Buried Treasure" about the Goddess Nemesis in her modern guise seeing that a former Hutu soldier who's overly fond of using his machete pays for all the Tutsis he murdered during the Rwandan Civil War, as well as all the others he killed afterwards. "Zombie and Spice" aroused both pity and terror in me as Department of Mystic Affairs Agent Karver was forced to confront the zombified body of a little girl he murdered while he was possessed by the seriel demon, after the creep who's stalking her mother resurrects her as a demented present. But the saddest story of all, the one that actually brought tears to my eyes, was the last one, "I Regret That I Only Have One Death To Give For My Country", where Uncle Sam is rescued by the heroic dead at Arlington National Cemetery, after a traitor spills the blood of the great American icon upon the graves of the soldiers.

Patrick, I don't know if you've ever served in the armed forces, but you have truly given your all for God and country in these stories. So I salute you, and the ideals you champion in this cynical age. Hope and Happiness never die at Bulfinch's Pub; neither do Generosity, Faith, Love, Compassion, and all the other fundamental things that apply as time goes by. Dusty, worn and half-forgotten though these virtues are, they're still priceless to those of us who honor them by practicing them as well as advocating them. Something our esteemed candidates for office would do well to remember as election time draws near.

To order this book and any other in the Murphy's Lore series, go to www.padwolf.com or www.murphys-lore.com.

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