Book summary (from Amazon.com): You know early on, from the color of the inappropriate bra in the opening scene, that Zombie Candy is going to be a black comedy. Most people could sympathize with the male obsession for sex and zombie movies, but who would put up with a husband who doused every dish with cilantro?
Frederick Lee Brooke serves up another literary treat with this bizarre and comical tale of love and betrayal. Candace Roach enlists her best friend Annie Ogden (our favorite sleuth from Doing Max Vinyl) to find out what her husband is really up to on his weekly business trips – but their home-cooked aversion therapy gets out of hand and hurtles along an astonishing highway of the undead.
Home from Iraq but unsure about her future, Annie Ogden isn’t your typical woman sleuth. Her best friend, Candace Roach – gourmet cooking instructor, owner of a house in Tuscany – isn’t your typical wronged woman either. Candace teaches gourmet cooking, and loves nothing more than orchestrating a four-course meal full of flavorful surprises and artistic touches. A selection of her recipes is found in an appendix to the book.
But with each shocking discovery in the investigation of her husband, the friendship between Candace and Annie is further put to the test. Candace ultimately takes matters into her own hands and, in an elaborate ruse, stages a nightmarish zombie drama in which her husband plays the starring role.
When I was looking for a way to describe Zombie Candy, two words kept coming to mind: Bizarre. Brilliant. And, in fact, that’s the perfect way to describe this multi-genre rollercoaster of a tale: Bizarrely brilliant. Fred Brooke has pulled off the impossible–made a lukewarm zombie reader an avid cheerleader for the undead. HOORAY FOR GORE! With a name like Zombie Candy, you know that semi-rotting innards and the stumbling undead will play a role in the story–and they do. Yet, they don’t. And then they do again. And then they don’t. But they do–and they do it so deliciously that you can’t help but wish you were one of them (well, just a little bit).
I suppose I should explain.
Zombie Candy starts out innocently enough: Larry Roach and Candace Roach are a married couple in trouble. She’s gained 50 pounds since college and hates it; he’s been cheating on her, and gets caught red-handed (or rather, if one was to use to correct term based on the color of the bra she finds in his suitcase, black-handed). When Candace discovers this betrayal, she is devastated, disbelieving, and self-flagellating. It has to be her. It’s her fault. She’s fat, she won’t watch zombie movies with him, she cooks gourmet meals that he doesn’t think are good enough (after all, he’s forever spicing them up with cilantro, so she must be doing something wrong)–she did this to them. However, after she enlists her college best friend Annie Ogden, an ex-sodier-turned-private-investigator, to determine just how far Larry’s infidelity goes, Candace gets much, much more insight into her husband than she ever bargained for–and the unsettling discovery propels her through the seven stages of grief and then sets her squarely back on anger. And keeps her there. Hell hath no fury, as the old adage goes, like a woman scorned.
What makes Zombie Candy an exceptional read–because, guys and gals, that’s what it is–is not so much the premise itself, but rather the completely bizarre twists and turns that Brooke employs as he spins his yarn. The closest comparison I can come up with is Daniel Day-Lewis’ cinematic tour de force There Will Be Blood. When I first watched the movie, I had no idea I was watching a dark comedy; it wasn’t until the ending scene, after I found myself giggling maniacally at (spoiler alert) Daniel Plainview’s bowling alley demolition of Eli Sunday’s head (“I’m finished!“) that I realized it was funny. Oh, it was so very funny. Zombie Candy has the same darkly hilarious results, while still making you cringe in some parts and cheer in others. You root for the bad guy–then the good guy–then the bad guy–and then the undead. Daniel Plainview and Candace Roach–what an odd, odd pairing–are indelibly linked in my mind:
They both have their obsessions; in Plainview’s case it is his oil pipeline, in Candace’s case it is her organization of complex events.
They both have their great love story; in Plainview’s case it is his son, and you can read about Candace’s in the excerpt of the book, available here.
They both have their nemeses.
They both are consumed by revenge.
They both go through a tremendous personal transformation via extreme hardship, sadness, and rage.
Perhaps one of the greatest feats Brooke accomplishes in Zombie Candy is to shove us fully into Candace’s shoes–into her experience as the spurned wife. He forces us into the utter confusion that Candace’s life becomes after she discovers her husband’s antics. We lurch right along with her through the first half of the book, confused, disoriented, unable to focus, without all the necessary information. He angers us with the knowledge of what has happened. And then, at the exact middle of the book, right as Candace’s realized she’s just about had damned enough of it, the story snaps into incredible focus, and we are sped along with Candace’s exceptional organizational abilities into the startling, explosively bloody, and utterly satisfying finale.
This book has no set genre (despite the “mystery” mention on the cover), and that’s perfectly fine. You don’t need to stick to a genre in order to write enthralling, exceptional prose. What Zombie Candy lacks in genre specificity, it more than makes up for in storytelling: Romance lovers will have their heartstrings tugged, paranormal thrill-seekers will get their fix, mystery mavens will find themselves satisfyingly baffled. The dialogue is pithy and on-point, the editing is masterful, and the formatting is excellent.
There is nothing that is too much, or too little, in Zombie Candy; it is just like the smallest of Goldilock’s three bears–everything is juuuuuust right. The build-up is perfect. The climax is just long enough. The denouement is unexpected, yet satisfying. Brooke keeps us guessing the whole time, and then leaves you with your mouth hanging open at the end: Did I just read that?!
Why, yes. Yes, you did. And now you want to go and read it again. And again.
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About the book: Weaving elements of mystery, horror and romance in a hilarious romp that starts in Chicago and ends in a quaint medieval town in sun-drenched Tuscany, Zombie Candy is a genre-hopping knee-slapper of a novel. Get it on Amazon.
About the author: Frederick Lee Brooke has worked as an English teacher, language school manager and small business owner and has travelled extensively in Tuscany, the setting of part of Zombie Candy. Visit Fred on his website, Twitter, Facebook, or GoodReads.