a review by Nalini Haynes
Desperate for work after fleeing her job and former home due to a disastrous extra-marital affair, Zoe moves to New York in the hope of landing a job in another publishing firm. Unlucky to date, she’s exploring the less-frequented portions of New York City when she comes across an advertisement for what appears to be her ideal job: creating a travel guide for tourists, later to become the Shambling Guide to New York City. The owner of the bookshop in which Zoe saw the ad and her potential employer both tell her she is not suitable for the job. Stubborn and desperate, Zoe makes her way to a café where she writes a job application and emails it.
Promptly receiving a response, Zoe has an hour until her job interview. John, a fellow patron of the café, just happens to work at this publishing company so he leads the way, taking Zoe into the bowels of a disused theatre.
After dinner with the boss Zoe forgets most of what she learnt the previous day about the business and her co-workers… or is it simply denial and disbelief? Even after Zoe’s memory is jogged, she takes the job regardless of the dangers to begin researching her clientele, the potential readers of this most unusual guide to New York City.
Assured of her safety at work in spite of the absence of the usual occupational health and safety protocols – usually there aren’t any brains or blood in the fridge – Zoe discovers the absence of a sexual harassment policy, which can be a drawback when one of your co-workers is a hungry incubus like John.
Zoe feels most comfortable with her two female co-workers who won’t be tempted to eat her – or at least, one will only passively consume her life energy if something else causes her demise, as is apparently the case with ancient death gods. The other, a water sprite, won’t eat Zoe at all: her preferred beverage of choice is water from various rivers and oases of the world, pre-pollution if you have it.
Working with vampires and zombies carries great risk, but it’s the underworld outside her workplace of which Zoe most needs to beware. Granny Good Mae, a strange old lady whom Zoe once bought a drink begins to train Zoe to defend herself.
A disembodied voice talks to Zoe at times; is this voice friend or foe?
The Shambling Guide is part Buffy, part Friends: there are paranormal entities against whom Zoe needs to defend herself and the city, but she’s also Central Perk-esque ‘coffee’ friends with other paranormal entities.
This is a fun read. I found myself visualising the Shambling Guide as a movie but then decided NO. It must be a high-quality one season TV show so none of the essential and engaging elements is cut. I’d definitely pay for that. Fun, light, fast-moving comic horror along with a bit of romance thrown in to create the perfect rainy afternoon or airport novel. Red wine and chilli chocolate are the perfect indulgence to accompany the Shambling Guide to New York City: spicy and sweet.