PROS: Fast pacing and great central conceit.
CONS: Styx really is an asshole, not everyone will want to spend more time with him.
BOTTOM LINE: An idea whose time is now, with an added touch of European class.
For the opening of Styx, we get a fairly typical scene of a serial killer posing the body of his latest female victim for display. This kicks off the action in the Belgian town of Ostend. The police detective assigned to the case is Rafael Styx, grade A asshole. His hip hurts, he cheats on his wife, he’s estranged from his teenage son, and he’s a complete dick to the rookie cop who’s too young, too black, and too flamboyantly dressed for Styx’s taste. So when he corners the killer but gets killed in the process, it’s hard to feel too bad about it. But things get really interesting once he wakes up.
“Zombie crime thriller” is such a perfect idea that one only marvels that one hasn’t struck it big yet. Much like when Naomi Novik thought “What if you took Master and Commander, but did it with Dragons?” I suspect this has the potential to make barge loads of money. And Bavo Dhooge absolutely knows what he’s doing. He keeps things moving at a brisk pace, never letting Styx or us stop too long to think about what the hell is really happening to him.
Styx has to deal with the fact that he is rotting, with what he can and can’t eat, with getting revenge on the killer, whether or not to contact his wife (who is, of course, all too happy to move on after the funeral). And in the meantime, he’s getting hints about the crimes when he seems to slip sideways in time, into the Ostend of different eras when artists as diverse as James Ensor (the town’s most famous son) and even Marvin Gaye made their homes there. The addition of different artwork as central to the pathology of the serial killer adds a much needed air of class to this otherwise fairly squalid (in a good way) tale. The translation from Dhooge’s native Flemish is also particularly well done, reading entirely smoothly and evoking exactly the atmosphere one imagines the author had in mind. The only quibble I had was that it was hard to keep track of just how much Mr. Styx was rotting, and to what extent that would or would not be apparent to casual observers.
It’s always great to see more works coming out in translation, and I hope that this one finds a wide audience. It’s honed to appeal mostly to fans of crime thrillers, but I think its zombie and time travel elements are a really interesting hook for any genre fans who want to take a walk on the dark side. It’s a fast read and one that has more than enough going on to keep the reader continually engaged.