Literature / Dan Shamble Zombie PI

A horror-comedy detective series by Kevin J. Anderson, chronicling the cases of Dan Chambeaux, private investigator in the Unnatural Quarter. Shot dead while seeking his girlfriend's murderer, Dan returns to "life" as a zombie: one of countless "unnaturals" spawned by the supernatural upheaval of the Big Uneasy. Together with his ghost-girlfriend Sheyenne, his BHF (Best Human Friend) police officer MacGoo, and Robin Dyer, his civil-rights attorney business partner, Dan tackles mysteries in which a multitude of monsters - natural and unnatural - engage in all-too-human criminal behavior, and anything could be the culprit.

Novels in the series include:
Death Warmed Over (2012)
Unnatural Acts (2013)
Hair Raising (2013)
Slimy Underbelly (2014)

Additional short stories featuring Chambeaux are compiled in the anthology Working Stiff (2015).

Tropes included in this series:

  • Accidental Misnaming / Malicious Misnaming: Could be either one: Thunder Dick claims his familiar's name is Morris, while the cat insists it's Maurice. On the one hand, Dick is an idiot who could easily be wrong; on the other, the cat's a Deadpan Snarker who could be claiming a different name just to make Dick look like one.
  • All Animals Are Dogs: Spot, Rover and Fido are giant rats living in the city dump. The foreman plays fetch with them.
  • The Alleged Car: Chambeaux & Dyer uses a barely-functional Ford Maverick that's held together mostly by rust as a company car. Sheyenne nicknames it "the Pro Bono Mobile", because they'd be able to afford something better if not for Robin's continual willingness to offer free legal aid to those who can't pay.
  • All Elections Are Serious Business: Rival candidates for top Weather Wizard in the city cause havoc in Slimy Underbelly with their respective campaigns' over-the-top weather control demonstrations.
  • Baleful Polymorph: Two recurring characters are a pair of witch sisters, one of whom was transformed permanently into a sow due to a typo in a book of spells.
  • Beastly Bloodsports: Cockatrice fighting in Hair Raising.
  • Brain Food: Down-and-out zombies are susceptible to an addiction to eating brains.
  • Can't Have Sex, Ever: Dan can't have sex with his girlfriend Sheyenne because she's a ghost, unable to touch anything animate. In Unnatural Acts, they find a stopgap solution: Sheyenne can manipulate inanimate objects, so she wears gloves to hold Dan's hand and offers to possess a blow-up doll for intimate relations. Dan turns the latter down, content to just hold her/it.
  • Chocolate Baby: The Eldritch Abomination from Slimy Underbelly, born with a tentacled head and a human body. In this case, it's the human body that his Cosmic Horror parents weren't expecting....
  • City with No Name: It's unstated which city the Unnatural Quarter is a part of, although it's clearly in the United States. A passing comment by Dan about shamblers with accents being nigh-incomprehensible implies it's not in the South.
  • Dead Artists Are Better: The first case Dan is shown working on is that of a ghost artist who's having a feud with his heirs: they don't want him to start painting again, because his pre-mortem paintings' value will plummet if they aren't his "last work" anymore.
  • Desperate Object Catch: In Unnatural Acts, the villain threatens to smash a highly-volatile bottled soul if Dan and his friends don't back off. When the villain is grabbed from behind, the jar is dropped and Dan dives underneath it, letting it strike his own body rather than the floor so it won't crack and explode.
  • Disability Immunity: Being a ghost is usually a bother for Sheyenne, but it does make her immune to many threats, including the bomb she carries away for disposal in Unnatural Acts and the pureblooded cockatrice's petrifying ugliness in Hair Raising.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Senator Balfour's followers are an obvious satire of America's Tea Party activists and Westboro Baptist Church.
  • Embarrassing Nickname: Dan Chambeaux isn't fond of his nickname of "Shamble", because it reminds him of the badly-decomposed zombies called "shamblers" for their decrepit lack of coordination.
    • Thunder Dick the weather wizard is an inversion: he actually chose to be called that, but picked a nickname that everyone else finds embarrassing.
  • Familiar: Morris/Maurice, the talking cat companion of Thunder Dick, is not happy about being an example of this trope. At least, not for a master like Thunder Dick.
  • Fantastic Ghetto: The Unnatural Quarter, which is itself divided into "ethnic" neighborhoods of sorts (e.g. Little Transylvania, the sewers). Justified in the latter case by different Unnatural types' physical needs, as with prohibitions on street lighting where darkness-loving species predominate.
  • Fantastic Racism: Anti-unnatural prejudice is personified by Straight Edge and Senator Balfour's followers. Golems aren't even regarded as unnaturals, but as tools, by many. Full-time "Hairball" werewolves and transforming "Monthly" werewolves don't much like each other in Hair Raising.
  • Gag Haircut: The reason the Parlour (BNF) isn't getting much business in Hair Raising is that Rova is such a bad stylist, she gives everyone one of these.
  • Giving Them the Strip: Both Dan and Lurrm slip away from the sewer-tentacles by shedding their jacket.
  • Helping Hands: C.H., towel-boy and masseur at the Recompose Spa.
  • Jigsaw Puzzle Plot: Played with. While not every case Dan investigates is the fault of a given novel's main villain, characters or Macguffins from subplots often provide a convenient means of resolving otherwise-unrelated cases.
  • Mad Scientist: Quite a few of them are around, including the Unnatural Quarter's medical examiner. The fact that mad scientists tend to be named "Victor" is both lampshaded and subverted, as it's the M.E.'s last name.
    • Slimy Underbelly reveals that there's a Mad Scientist Patent Office, a Mad Scientist Trademark Office, and at least one Mad Scientists' Summer Camp for gifted young wannabe-examples.
  • Monster Mash: Pretty much every horror-story monster exists in the Dan Shamble stories' Verse.
  • Muggle Best Friend: Lampshaded with Chambeaux's BHF (Best Human Friend), McGoo.
  • Mundane Utility: A wizard acts as auctioneer in Unnatural Acts, being well practiced in reciting spells rapidly yet intelligibly. Ruth, a succubus whose touch withers plants, finds a new career at a shop that specializes in dried flower arrangements.
  • Occult Detective: Dan.
  • One Steve Limit: Averted in the backstory, in which Dan and McGoo are both divorced from women named Rhonda.
  • Organ Theft: In Hair Raising, MacGoo asks Dan's help investigating the death of a vampire whose internal organs were removed.
  • Our Gnomes Are Weirder: They're literal lawn gnomes, made of ceramic but animated like pint-sized golems.
  • Our Werewolves Are Different: Two kinds of werewolf are common after the Big Uneasy: full-time Petting Zoo People nicknamed "Hairballs", and full-moon-transforming "Monthlies". The former resemble Universal's classic "Wolf Man", while the latter range from bipedal-and-passionate to quadrupedal-and-berserk when transformed. Interestingly, both types are contagious, and can infect normal humans with their claws as well as their fangs.
  • Our Zombies Are Different: Zombies arise by sheer luck: one for every seventy-five deaths, heavily weighted toward suicides and murder victims. Fully sentient creatures, they occasionally do eat brains, but it's considered a tragic addiction rather than normal zombie behavior. It's mentioned that mad scientists and necromancers sometimes craft the "artificial" and "voodoo" variants, although the former aren't generally referred to as zombies.
  • Petting Zoo People: Hairball werewolves, Lurrm and the other frog-demons in Slimy Underbelly, and various passing references to lizard-people.
  • Poltergeist: Although incorporeal, Sheyenne can manipulate inanimate objects, which allows her to work as Dan and Robin's office manager and paralegal.
  • Post-Modern Magik: Lots; vampires slathering themselves with sunscreen and buying expired donor blood in bars, werewolves using oversized hair dryers, warehouse outlets for human body parts, and Harvey Jekyll's ectoplasmic defibrillators.
  • Rapid Hair Growth: In Hair Raising, a mad scientist attempts to develop a cosmetic formula that would cause instantaneous hair growth. He eventually succeeds, but only by using the stolen scalps of werewolves to create it. Then it works too well, and fills his house with hair when some of his invention drips into a clogged-up shower drain.
  • Recursive Canon: Dan's exploits become the inspiration for an in-Verse series of mystery novels. The first one shares a title with the actual first book in the series, whose events it documents, albeit with a lot more Fanservice.
  • Reference Overdosed: Virtually every page has a Shout-Out or pop-culture reference.
  • Rodents of Unusual Size: Spot, Fido and Rover, the giant rats at the city dump.
  • Saving Christmas: Santa hires Dan to track down his stolen N/N list in "Naughty and Nice".
  • So Unfunny It's Funny: MacGoo's stupid Unnatural jokes aren't funny, but watching Dan squirm over them can be, particularly when he grudgingly admits to liking one of the less-lame examples, but refrains from letting on to his BHF.
  • Supervillain: In Slimy Underbelly, a boy inventor who's a bit unclear on the "villain" part of this trope aspires to become one so he can protect people. Granted, he's growing up in a world where terrifying monsters live as regular citizens, so his perspective on "villains" is justifiably different.
  • Taken for Granite: Pureblooded cockatrices are ugly enough to do this to corporeal onlookers, although domesticated ones bred for pit-fighting aren't quiiiite that hideous. When Rusty turns some of the former loose in Hair Raising, a few innocent witnesses and several of the novel's villains succumb to this trope.
  • Talking Animal: Morris/Maurice the tuxedo cat, as well as the gator-boys and some mutant sewer rats.
  • Undead Tax Exemption: Deconstructed. Robin's career is built around stretching the legal system's boundaries to encompass unnaturals' civil rights, and she's personally established several important legal precedents. Many laws have already been changed to cope with the Big Uneasy, such as those mandating escape-latches on coffins.
  • The Unmasqued World: Zombie detective Dan Shamble solves cases in the Unnatural Quarter, a ghetto of supernaturals birthed by the Big Uneasy.
  • Vegetarian Vampire: Post-Big Uneasy, "blood bars" and retailers make expired donor blood available to customers. Backsliding vampires who kill humans are tried for murder and executed if caught, so even the less-than-moral ones generally refrain from preying on people.
  • Virgin Power: The Big Uneasy was unleashed when a drop of virgin's blood fell upon the Necronomicon under a full moon and during a rare astrological conjunction. A homely fifty-eight-year-old witch's blood, shed via a paper cut, but a virgin's blood nonetheless.
  • Vocal Dissonance: In Slimy Underbelly, an ogre's powerful baritone voice is magically stolen: swapped for the piping squeak of a gnome criminal, who wanted a voice suitable to command his gang of robbers.
  • Whodunnit to Me: A big part of Death Warmed Over concerns Dan's hunt for his own murderer. Sheyenne accompanies him when he's looking for hers, also.
  • Zombie Advocate: Robin's law specialty is defending unnaturals' civil rights. Mrs. Saldana, founder of a mission for down-and-out unnaturals, also gets her involved in MILDEW (Monsters' Legal Defense Workers).