Title: Dead Men Kill
Author: L. Ron Hubbard
Publisher/Copyright: Galaxy Press, 2010
As I’ve mentioned before, I rarely make use of audiobooks. Not for any particular hatred of the format, just because they are rarely convenient for me. Nevertheless, I recently found myself with a two-hour solitary car trip. How to fill the time? Surf from one FM classic & current hits station to another, switching every time they cut to commercials?* Maybe in other circumstances I would have done that, but I happened to have a two-hour audiobook sitting here awaiting my purview. And so it was that I marathoned the audiobook version L. Ron Hubbard’s one-and-only zombie** story, Dead Men Kill. In the interest of full disclosure, I received my copy through the Goodreads FirstReads program. This in no way influences my review except to ensure its existence.
Some dismiss so-called “pulp fiction” out of hand, but I have found the little I’ve read to be highly entertaining. If you care to, you can read my brief defense of the subgenre in my review of the last Hubbard book I reviewed, the pulp western Gunman’s Tally. We join our protagonist, Detective Terry Lane, as the city is swept by a wave of high-profile murders in which the only clues point to men recently dead and buried. As bodies pile up and the media calls for his resignation, Lane is forced to consider the impossible….could it be that Dead Men Kill?
This particular audiobook was an unabridged full-cast recording, and I have to say that the effect was pretty impressive. It was occasionally awkward, what with *character voice* “Dialogue” *narrator voice* “he said….” or one bit where the villain ends his monologue with a maniacal giggle, treating us to the full effect before the narrator describes him giggling. I’m not saying it needed to happen otherwise, just that it was a bit awkward and jarring for a moment here and there. Across the board, however, the production succeeded admirably. The whole thing is played for maximum effect, playing up the inherent qualities of pulp detective fiction by matching the overly-melodramatic writing with over-the-top voice acting by a talented cast. R.F. Daley’s narrator manages to deliver Hubbard’s melodramatic prose with a grim enthusiasm that perfectly sets the tone of the production. He is joined by Matt Scott as the square-jawed detective, Jennifer Aspen as the damsel in distress (though a stronger female character than some would give the era credit for), John Mariano as the villain, and Jim Meskimen as most of the background cast. It is a credit to the production that the exaggerated Palpatine-esque voice Mariano uses fits perfectly, which is important as it keeps you from identifying the villain’s true identity before you’re supposed to–at least by the sound of his voice, but we’ll discuss that in a moment.
If you can set aside your inner critic and just allow yourself to have a good time, this is a very fun way to spend two hours. As you may have gathered from my commentary on the audio side of the production, everything about the book is delightfully over-the-top. You’re not going to find any grand truths about the nature of human existence here, but you will find a couple hours of pure delightful escapism. The one downside for lovers of suspense is that the mystery of the villain’s true identity is incredibly easy to guess, due to the narrator’s noting otherwise-inconsequential details early in the story. If you are paying attention and have any familiarity with the genre, you know who the villain will turn out to be–he’s the only one that makes logical sense, though they never really explain why he has it out for Detective Lane outside of purely professional concerns. You may doubt your conclusions as the story progresses, but at the end you will be congratulating yourself on one-upping the author. I personally prefer congratulating the author for pulling a fast one on me, but that’s okay. It doesn’t substantially detract from the experience, so far as I’m concerned.
CONTENT: Some violence, not overly gory but still a bit disturbing due to the overwhelmingly over-the-top nature of the narration and prose. I don’t recall any language, which isn’t surprising given the publishing standards of the pulps. No real sexual content, just some mild flirting and an embarrassingly-objectified (not to mention smitten) description of a woman on a character’s first meeting her.
*Yes, I do this. I can’t stand radio commercials and will change the channel every time I run into them. I turned off the radio yesterday because every bloody one of my presets was playing a commercial…..
**Let me clarify real quick before you get your hopes up–these are Haitian Voodoo zombies, not Romero/Walking Dead zombies. Sorry for the confusion.