Abbreviated Cuts: Severance Package, Hell's Aquarium and Jailbait Zombie

Reviews written by Jess Peacock

Severance Package by Duane Swierczynski

Describing Severance Package as Office Space meets The Bourne Identity (“Yeah, I’m going to need you to go ahead and come in on Saturday…and die”) would not be an entirely fair description, but not an entirely unfair one either. Like Swierczynski’s prose, the plot of Severance Package is lean and mean, belying the author’s other paying gig as a writer for Marvel Comics.

Severance Package wastes no time in thrusting everyman Jamie DeBroux into the ultra-violent world of espionage, terrorism, dismemberment, and even death by potato salad. After he is summoned, along with six other of his office mates, to an important Saturday morning meeting on the 36th floor of his Philadelphia based financial company, DeBroux learns the chilling truth about his employer. Worse still is the revelation that, unfortunately, this particular company meeting will be his last…ever.

Severance Package is a novel with nothing more on its mind than dragging readers by the hair through its twisted and twisting maze of shattered bones, gory set-pieces, and triple crosses that beg to be adapted for the big screen (and just may, as Lion’s Gate has recently purchased the film rights to the novel).

Meg: Hell’s Aquarium by Steve Alten

The Meg series is a little like sex or pizza: even when it’s bad, it’s probably enjoyable. Meg: Hell’s Aquarium (book four in the bestselling series) is far from a well-written novel. Like a glutton gorging at the buffet, however, it keeps you reading, page after ludicrous page, until you finish off the beast, replete with literary indigestion.

Hell’s Aquarium continues to follow the re-emergence of the formally extinct Carcharodon Megalodon, a 70-foot, 70,000-pound prehistoric cousin of the great white shark (think Jurassic Park meets Jaws). Throughout the series, the various Megs run riot in the open ocean attacking whales, boats, helicopters, and subs. They are captured, escape, captured again, and even do the aquatic nasty and have some babies. Throughout all of this, they find the time to perform as main attractions at a type of Sea World on steroids, not to mention engage in mortal combat with various other formerly extinct prehistoric beasties.

Seriously.

The action is far-fetched and absurd, the characters (especially the victims) paper-thin, and, for some reason, Alten chose to write Hell’s Aquarium in the present tense which simply bugged the hell out of me. However, a book such as this serves a purpose as a palette cleanser, a bit of a no-brainer in between novels of more depth and importance. This is feint praise to say the least, so dive into the Meg series with fair warning.

Jailbait Zombie by Mario Acevedo

Felix Gomez has problems. The least of which is the fact that he’s a vampire private investigator tasked by his undead masters to stop a zombie uprising that threatens to expose what the regular world can never be privy to: the existence of the supernatural. From there, it only gets worse for Gomez.

Having already faced down aliens, survived the porn industry, and kicked more than his share of ass (living and undead alike), Felix’s fourth adventure forces him to confront the circumstances and guilt that preceded his introduction to the supernatural realm. Seemingly damned to live an eternity with the pain of his actions, Felix encounters a girl who, potentially, offers the opportunity for some type of path to redemption. Standing in his way, however, is a literal blood soaked trail of dead bodies, the mob, and supposed allies that have lost their faith in his ability to get the job done.

Author Acevedo succeeds in combining the traditional hard-boiled noir detective narrative with elements of modern horror. Namely, a mix of Humphrey Bogart and Re-Animator with bits of Shaun of the Dead swirling around for good measure. The combination is inventive, fun, and, in this latest installment, capitalizes on the current wave of zombie popularity in film and literature (vampire vs. robo-zombie, anyone?) Acevedo also succeeds in structuring his most satisfying ending to date by paving the way for a truly frightening and powerful villain for Gomez to face off with in book five. All told, Jailbait Zombie is an outstanding addition to what was already a fantastic series of novels, vampire or otherwise.