The world of Zook Country feels authentic: Bill Swears's time in the military informs every page, especially the sections in which the main character, Jake Chestnut, is on patrol killing zooks--superfast and super deadly not-quite-zombies. (Only a handful of talented zook hunters have the necessary reflexes to see even the blur of activity that gives away a zook position.) Humanity lives behind barriers in tightly secured enclaves, protecting themselves from the zook and the ghasten, a ghostly variation on zooks. Though unconcerned with humans, ghasten do attract zook, so teams of ghasten hunters, with their own sets of skills, are also available for hire. Jake and his partner, Gary, get the well-paid opportunity of a lifetime clearing out what used to be a country club. Jake hires a full platoon of other zook and ghasten specialists to combat the undead threat, but finds much more than he bargained for underneath the grounds of the former rich men's playground.
Jake is a man's man, through and through, and comes up flustered time and again as his pretty yet overly qualified secretary saves the company, the day and his heart. The gentle patriarchal tone of some of these passages may grate on some readers, but it's all in good fun for the most part. What surprises about Zook Country isn't the action sequences, which are all clearly written, nor the consistently well-done worldbuilding. Rather, it's the amount of self-awareness and downright introspective nature of the main character, who wears his heart--and his assault rifle--on his sleeve. --Rob LeFebvre, freelance writer and editor