Empties by George Zebrowski

Empty City and Empty People

What do you tell yourself when impossible things begin to happen? What can you say? You're a police detective, third class, and maybe you're just not good enough and that's what you have to admit whether you like it or not. You see evidence of things that can't be real, but you just don't observe well enough to explain it in any natural way. Is it magic, horror, or science fiction? You've lost your mind and can't tell. Can you ask rational questions and still be crazy? You never went to a shrink, or to your dentist often enough, for that matter--so now you're nuts and your teeth are falling out. Does it help any that you know your mind is gone? You're trapped in a black comedy with a beautiful but fatal woman right out of an old poem by Keats, hoping to wake up from the nightmare, even if on a cold hillside--as long as you wake up sane.

Detective Benek is facing with an impossible crime; bodies are turning up without their brains, and without any indication of how the organs were removed. His only lead—an attractive landlady—becomes more than a lead, and drives him into a world of terror, where his sanity is questioned and he must stop the monster before she does more evil. Or should he join her, and become a father of a race of monsters? Does he have a choice, and will he make it, or just be driven by terror?


Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine review

Issue: August, 2009

George Zebrowski: Empties, Golden Gryphon, $24.95. Manhattan decective Benek, investigating the death of an old derelict whose skull is missing a brain, encounters a literal femme fatale. This engrossing genre bender combines police procedural, male romantic suspense, science fiction, and/or fantasy, nourish pursuit thriller, and gross-out horror story. An afterword pays tribute to the author’s mentor, Fritz Leiber, whose Conjure Wife was a partial inspiration.

- Jon L. Breen, “The Jury Box”


Mystery Scene review

Issue: No. 110, Summer, 2009

Another occult thriller arrives via George Zebrowski’s Empties (Golden Gryphon Press, $24.95). New York City detective Bill Benek, a reader of Livy and Marcus Aurelius, likens himself and his fellow police officers to the Romans guarding Hadrian’s Wall; they’re simply keeping back the barbarians. This thinking detective offers us insights on the human condition, such as, “Control is good, but it costs you in tension.” But his fatal weakness is that he thinks so much that he acts slowly, even if his own life hangs in the balance. When he finds a dead wino whose brain has been removed, his investigation takes him into the lair of a madwoman, but he’s so busy philosophizing that he misses clues that would have been obvious to a less cerebral man. As a result, Benek finds himself drugged and taken hostage. This is no book for the squeamish, since it describes horrific procedures, steamy sex, and some pretty out there occult beliefs. That said, Empties can be a fascinating adventure for mystery fans who like a dash of weirdness with their murders.

- Betty Webb


Booklist review

Issue: May 15, 2009

Zebrowski, George (Author)
May 2009. 163 p. Golden Gryphon, hardcover, $24.95. (9781930846593).

An outstanding feature of Zebrowki’s large body of speculative fiction is his knack for creating vividly rendered, three-dimensional characters. That talent is fully displayed while recounting the dilemma confronting a bewildered New York detective who encounters a murder suspect possessing the supernatural ability to dislodge her victims’ brains. At first, the sixth precinct’s William Benek doesn’t quite believe what he’s seeing. A bum and a priest both have their brains rapidly and inexplicably removed from their skulls, leaving only blood and corpses behind. Then a possible witness, an aloof but strangely attractive landlady, Diedre, imprisons Benek for breeding purposes and before his very eyes demonstrates her gruesome gift on small animals. Though Benek manages to escape while Diedre is away on a killing spree, convincing his superiors that Diedre’s powers are real proves a pretty daunting task. Sifting in a little intriguing criminal psychology, Zebrowski takes a bizarre premise and whips it into a gripping blend of horror and detective fiction.

— Carl Hays, Booklist


Edge review:

Empties

by Kilian Melloy
EDGE Contributor
Wednesday Mar 25, 2009
George Zebrowski is a smart writer capable of peering into our possible futures while remaining grounded in the timeless (if in some ways regrettable) essentials of human nature.

The same strengths that serve Zebrowski so well when he’s writing science fiction come into play with his horror stories. In his new novel, Empties, Zebrowski takes aim at the writhing confusion of romance, and mines a deep, pitch-back vein of comedy.

The story starts as a mystery. Who, or what, killed a homeless drunk by removing the man’s brain from his intact skull? The question worries Bill Benek to the point of distraction, even though the coroner shrugs it off as some sort of undeniably clever, if macabre, joke.

Then Benek’s path crosses with that of Dierdre Matera, an aloof, beautiful woman with enough of a connection to the case that Benek can’t help treating her as a suspect... and enough chilly, rough-edged charm that he can’t stop himself from being attracted to her. When the two cross the cop-suspect line, it’s an ethical and professional issue--or would be, if Dierdre hadn’t drugged, kidnapped, and turned Benek into her personal sex toy.

What follows is a mystery even greater than the question of how people’s brains continue to vanish from their skulls all around the city. How can a man continue to subject himself to the agonies and uncertainties of an affair so obviously bound from the start to go wrong? And how can a woman both love and wish to destroy a man, both with equal passion?

The satirical theme--love robs us of all sense, leaving us essentially brainless in the quest to answer a primitive urge--plays into Zebrowski’s long-time philosophical preoccupations. The author has long examined the gulf, and the tension, between animal instinct and intellect; here, he pits the two against one another as never before, with intellect (as in real life) fighting a hopeless war of attrition.

The point is underscored by scenes both grisly and wry; one standout moment takes place in a restaurant, as the brains of the patrons suddenly start tumbling from their heads. Waiters crumple to the floor; gorgeously attired women slump as their brains plummet into bread baskets. It’s a bewildering scene of sheer pandemonium that should clue someone in on the true nature of crimes no one wishes to acknowledge are taking place, but instead the incident is swiftly and efficiently forgotten in a rush to reestablish normalcy.

Between the polar extremes of the head and the gut is the heart, and that’s where Zebrowski sets up his base camp for this excursion into strange territory. Even as the natural order of things seems threatened by the inexplicable goings-on, nature--in its cruelty and implacability--still works to bring Benek and Dierdre together, time and again, each one apprehensive of, and yet fascinated with, the other. This novel is short and frightening, but it’s also funny--and as bold and economical a description of the intricacies of love as you’ll ever read.

by George Zebrowski
Publisher: Golden Gryphon Press. Publication Date: May 1, 2009. Pages: 163. Price: $24.95.
Format: Hardcover Original. ISBN-13: 978-1-930-846-593

Kilian Melloy reviews media, conducts interviews, and writes commentary for EDGEBoston, where he also serves as Assistant Arts Editor.


Baryon review:

EMPTIES,

George Zebrowski, Golden Gryphon, $24.95, 163 pages, ISBN: 9781930846593, reviewed by Barry Hunter.

Has the world gone crazy or is it that you are losing your mind? How can truly weird things be happening and you are the only one who sees them as they are? That’s the problem that is facing police detective, third class William Benek after he is called out early one morning to investigate the death of an old wino. Benek is a loner. He has no friends at work and scarcely speaks to the other residents in his apartment building. He has no girlfriend but does show a passing interest in a new girl in the apartment building. That is until he meets Dierdre Matera at the scene of another strange death. A priest is found dead with his brain on the floor beside the body, as was the earlier wino. Their meeting sets of a chain of events that leads to a strange love affair and Benek wondering about his sanity even more. More deaths occur and Benek is unable to get anyone to believe what he has found out. They think he is losing it. Zebrowski has written a darkly surrealistic comedy noir that is pleasing to read and adds to the list of interesting, thought provoking works of his career. It’s the kind of story David Cronenberg would have made right after SCANNERS. Thanks George, this one’s a gem.

Baryon


Hardcover, ISBN 978-1-930846-59-3
Book #44


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