There is so much to love about Dead Man's Drive, but the lively, colorful characters were what drove this story. There's Angel, Roscoe's loyal Mexican best friend. Wooster, the gruff ex-bank robber who has one explosive secret. Betty Bright who serves as a kind of mother figure to the rough bunch. Let's not forget Basil Barrow, the undertaker at the local cemetery that helps the drivers at Donovan Motors dispose of bodies. With any novel, you always have your favorite character. In this case, I absolutely loved the Deadbeat, a DJ that uses his radio show as a way to inform Roscoe and the others of any suspicious occult activities.
The Deadbeat's voice oozed back across the airwaves."Evening, cool kids and ghoul kids. That was Zap Telford and the Boo Babies with a real hot number called My Phantom Girl. Now here's your La Cruz news update." He cleared his throat. "Dig it--there's a new power coming to our little town and his name is Strickland.'"
I also found Eldgridge Swann, the Negro crime lord who controlled Butcher's row, very interesting. There have been a few reviewers that complained at the author's use of the word "negro" when describing Eldgridge Swann. I find that annoying because in the 50's that is EXACTLY what they called African Americans. I'm half black and didn't find it the least bit offensive. I think people need to stop being so sensitive and focus on the literature, the setting, etc. I appreciate that Panush stayed true to the time period in which he was writing about.
Michael Panush is not only great with creating charismatic characters that seem to come off the pages, but it is quite clear he knows how to write. His use of figurative language really helped create images in my mind as I read along. Here are a few of my favorites:
"He remembered speed, the sensation of zooming down an open highway with an engine roaring and the wind battering your face like the flailing strikes of a boxer about to be defeated."
"He kept it hot, boiling enough so that the steam billowed out of the pot like an impatient ghost."
"His tie was loud, with geometric designs, and he had a fat, golden ring."
Dead Man's Drive is also filled with humor which was a pleasant surprise. It's been a long time since I've read a novel that has made me laugh out loud. There are two scenes that I thought were hilarious. The first one is when Roscoe cuts off his ear and throws it at a table full of villains, hoping it will help him "hear" their conversation:
"I thought hearing comes from those holes on the side of your head--not the ear itself." [Angel says]
"It's called magic." Roscoe wiggled the severed ear in Angel's direction. "It doesn't have to make sense."
Then he tossed the ear across the bar. It was a light, underhanded throw. The ear landed under the table where Torrance and Mr. Roach were talking. Nobody noticed. Roscoe sat back up, covered the ear remaining on his head and did his best to listen.
You know it's the 50's when the boys are fighting in suits:
"You okay?" Roscoe called to him.
"Yeah." Angel glanced down at his zoot suit, now splotched with black marks from dead gore. "Ah, no," he muttered. "Got my threads dirty. Brains-- they never come out in the wash. He grabbed one of his pistols and started shooting again.
The most unique aspect of this novel is Panush's ability to weave in other historical milestones, such as Hitler and the Crusades. I'm not going to get into detail here to stay away from spoilers, but I was blown away that the author was able to add in all of these elements without making it feel too busy or confusing.
The only issue I had was with the vague zombie mythology. Roscoe is a walking dead, but nothing like what we have been taught to believe. I am absolutely okay if an author wants to switch things up and Roscoe was a breath of fresh air. But it felt like Panush didn't address the why and the how. How did he luck out and not turn into the zombies that were in Strickland/Roach's army? Is there more zombies like Roscoe out there? He can eat anything, so zombies eating raw meat is just a myth in the world of the story? Does he smell? I just wish the author had spent a little more time on this.
Dead Man's Drive is an action packed, thrill ride that keeps you in a constant state of suspense until the very last page. With plenty of humor and a colorful cast of characters, I can totally see this book being turned into a tv series. But don't let the funny parts fool you. Roscoe is quite a complex character, plagued with amnesia and spends the majority of the story struggling to remember his past and the reason for his reanimation. If you are looking for some thrills and chills, I highly recommend this unique zombie tale!
I've always been interested in zombies and they seem like a pretty good goon to get hurled at the hero en masse. Zombie apocalypse stories are fun and popular, but also a little played out, so I wanted to try something else. Zombie hero stories are a little less popular, but they do exist (Hessius Mann is one I became familiar with after writing Dead Man's Drive), so that seemed like a good way to go. Taking a zombie hero, making him drive hot rods and heals himself with fast food seemed much more unique, so that's the route I ended up taking. A lot of characters in my stories are sort of human, but not quite. They're isolated from the world around them and in a world as obsessed with conformity as the 1950s, that's a big deal. I wanted Roscoe to be isolated by his condition of being a zombie as well as his personality. He's a greaser, with a love of black leather jackets and rock and roll, and that alone makes sets him apart. The zombie stuff is just a bonus.
2. Your novel is set in the 1950's which seems like a daunting task alone, but then you touch upon Hitler and even The Crusades. What kind of research did you do in order to help the reader feel like they were taking a walk in history?
I didn't really need to do too much research, as I already knew a lot about that time and place from reading period fiction. I'm a huge James Ellroy fan, and reading his entire catalogue gives you a good idea about how nasty Golden Age Hollywood was. I try to work as much history into the Rot Rods series as possible (a lot more pops up in the sequels) by making characters distorted versions of historic people. For instance, the villain in Dead Man's Drive, Red Strickland is a mix of Howard Hughes (in that he has a goon doing his dirty work and is weird), and Henry Ford (in that he was best pals to the Nazis). The Nazi stuff also came together pretty easily. Nazis and the occult go together like peanut butter and chocolate, so it was just a small leap. And the Crusades came in when I was looking for an origin to La Cruz. All in all, it felt very organic and natural and I hope the reader feels that way too.
3. I originally thought that Dead Man's Drive was a stand alone novel, but I read somewhere that there was a plan for a series. True? Not true? If the rumor is true, what can we expect in book 2? Will there be a new central character or will Roscoe reprise his role?
The rumors are true! Dead Man's Drive is part one of a four part series. Books two and three are already written (and book two will be out soon) and I'm just about to start part four. They all follow Roscoe but there are major changes to the line-up of his friends. Here's the lowdown – part two is Detour to Apocalypse and is about aliens, the atomic bomb, Area 51, and Las Vegas. Part three is Southern California Gothic and is about a Black Dahlia-esque murder in Hollywood, mad science in Tijuana, and a gang war. Part four is called Ghosts of Camelot, and is about the Kennedy Administration, the Civil Rights movement, Santeria and Voodoo, and more.
Twenty-Four years old, Michael Panush has distinguished himself as one of Sacramento’s most promising young writers. Michael has published numerous short stories in a variety of e-zines including: AuroraWolf, Demon Minds, Fantastic Horror, Dark Fire Fiction, Aphelion, Horrorbound, Fantasy Gazetteer, Demonic Tome, Tiny Globule, and Defenestration.
He is the author of Clark Reeper Tales, his first novel. Michael began telling stories when he was only nine years old. He won first place in the Sacramento Storyteller’s Guild “Liar’s Contest” in 2002 and was a finalist in the National Youth Storytelling Olympics in in 2003. In 2005, Michael’s short story entitled, Adventures in Algebra, won first place in the annual MISFITS Writing Contest.
In 2007, Michael was selected as a California Art’s Scholar and attended the Innerspark Summer Writing Program at the CalArts Institute. He graduated from John F. Kennedy High School in 2008 and has recently graduated from UC Santa Cruz.
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