Just before Halloween, I thought it only fitting to tell you about a wonderfully written and fun — albeit somewhat scary — new novel by local author Scott A. Lerner.
"Cocaine Zombies" is a paranormal thriller set in Champaign-Urbana; after reading it, you might find yourself looking at your neighbors in a whole new way.
"It has elements of various genres," Lerner said. "Parts are reminiscent of an old detective novel. There is horror and humor. It even has a bit of the feel of a James Bond movie."
When asked what movies and books "Cocaine Zombies" compares to, Lerner answered that his book is reminiscent of "The Serpent and the Rainbow," directed by Wes Craven, which had a similar connection between voodoo and pharmaceutical companies as Lerner's book does, and "Angel Heart" by Alan Parker, also with some voodoo themes — both works from the 1980s.
In Lerner's first novel, main character Sam Roberts, who is a lawyer in Urbana, finds himself mixed up with drug dealers, the supernatural and corrupt big business when a client named Thomas comes to him after being arrested for drug dealing. Thomas seems odd, but even odder is Chloe, who accompanies him to Sam's office.
Sam works on Thomas' defense, but soon his client winds up dead. Sam is a suspect, of course, and he also needs some help after coming upon a gruesome scene. He asks his friend, Bob, who is good with technology, and the two are off on quite an adventure, which leads them to a German pharmaceutical company that is using a "highly addictive and dangerous derivative of cocaine first developed in Nazi Germany. Combined with ancient herbs provided by a voodoo priest, the substance has become increasingly addictive and dangerous."
The three best things about this novel are its fast pace with short chapters, Sam as the likable hero and the humor.
"I wanted to write a book I would also like to read," Lerner said. "The characters would talk and act like real people. It would be realistic, but at the same time, larger than life. I didn't want it to follow the same old tired formula."
People from East Central Illinois will especially enjoy this book. Lerner set his novel in the area because "if I was to hatch a secret plot to take over the world, I would want to go where I wouldn't draw a lot of attention," he said. "I also needed an educated work force — chemists and researchers. The University of Illinois has one of the country's largest research institutions. The antagonists would also need to transport the product they created all around the world. Champaign has good access to highways, trains and airports."
He said readers will recognize places, such as The News-Gazette building, the Urbana Free Library, Lincoln Square Village and other towns like Mahomet, St. Joseph and Tuscola.
Lerner knows the area well because he was raised in Champaign. He went to Edison Middle School and graduated from Central High. He also graduated from the UI College of Law, just like his brother and father. The law office of Scott Lerner is in Champaign, where he lives with his wife and children.
Although he is a busy lawyer, Lerner said he does jot down ideas and tends to write at different times throughout the day while at his desk. It works for him, as he has finished the sequel to "Cocaine Zombies," "Ruler of Demons."
If you are interested in reading Lerner's debut novel, you can go to Amazon or the Camel Press website (http://camelpress.com ).
In "Cocaine Zombies," Lerner explores whether or not humanity deserves free will. The antagonists argue that humans have screwed up so badly they don't deserve free will, whereas Sam, the protagonist, believes in the basic goodness of people. Lerner also includes the themes of drugs, magic and human nature.
"As heavy as all this sounds, the overall tone is light and fast-paced," Lerner said. "As a reader, I don't like to be preached to, so I don't preach myself."
Pick up a copy of "Cocaine Zombies" for a great read and to support a local author.
Margo L. Dill is the author of "Finding My Place: One Girl's Strength at Vicksburg," a middle-grade historical fiction novel. She often reviews books as a columnist for "WOW! Women On Writing" e-zine and her blog, "Margo Dill's Read These Books and Use Them" (http://margodill.com/blog/ ). She lives in St. Louis with her family.