A Zombie Crime Thriller in Belgium? Yes, Please! | Styx by Bavo Dhooge

STYX by Bavo Dhooge

There are three really cool things about being a book blogger:

  1. Gabbing to book blogging buddies about a mutual love for a book
  2. Finding the courage to step outside your comfort zone by reading a book in a genre you’re unfamiliar with and then being kind of blown away by it
  3. Writing about your experiences with #1 and #2

Let me tell you about list item number 2.

Styx by Bavo Dhooge coverStyx by Bavo Dhooge

Released: November 2015 (first published January 2014)
Publisher: Simon & Schuster/Simon 451
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★★★☆☆
Synopsis: A serial killer is on the loose in Ostend, Belgium. Nicknamed The Stuffer, the mysterious killer fills his victims full of sand and poses them as public art installations—and the once idyllic beach town is in a panic. The fact that Rafael Styx is on the case is no comfort. The corrupt, middle-aged cop has a bum hip, a bad marriage, and ties to the Belgian underworld, but no leads. And if he wants to catch the killer before he’s replaced by the young, ambitious, and flamboyant new cop, Detective Delacroix, he’ll have to take matters into his own hands.

When a chance encounter puts him face to face with The Stuffer, Rafael’s life is cut short by a gun to the chest. But the afterlife has only just begun: Styx wakes up a zombie. Gradually he realizes his unique position. Not only is his body in decay, now that he exists between life and death, he can enter a “different” Ostend, of the Belle Époque in all its grandeur. There he meets the surrealist painter, Paul Delvaux, who gives Styx his first clue about the killer.

With a fresh lead and a fresh start, the dirty cop decides to change his ways, catch The Stuffer, and restore his honor. But as his new hunger for human flesh impedes his progress, he’ll need his old rival, Detective Delacroix to help him out. Only one thing is for sure, even death can’t stop Styx from catching his own murderer.

 

Prior to 2015, I niched myself into young adult book blogging because I grew up reading young adult novels, and when I started Books & Tea, I was still very much a young adult (23 still counts as young, right?). Four years later, I still love young adult books, but I also started craving reading experiences outside my comfort zone. This lead me beyond the young adult section at the library into the wild and scary stacks of grown-up fiction. I explored cozy mystery novels, horror novels, and romance novels, and I loved every moment of it. This is perhaps why I felt ever the optimist when offered the opportunity to read a zombie crime thriller that takes place in Belgium, called Styx, by Flemish author Bavo Dhooge.

This is the first translated book I’ve read since college

The first translated book I ever read (or recall reading) was After the Quake by Haruki Murakami. It made quite the impact because shortly after graduation, I ended up buying Norwegian Wood and IQ84. I haven’t quite gotten around to reading either of these books, but I do sense a New Year’s Resolution brewing here. The second translated book I’ve read now is, of course, Styx, and by the end of the novel, I started to wonder why I haven’t read more translated works of fiction. The translated prose seemed smooth, which I appreciated, but even more so, I was transported to Ostend, Belgium so wholly, and if this were an American piece, I feel like it would have been superficial.

If you like anti-heroes, Styx is for you

Raphael Styx is both the namesake of this book and the main character. He’s brusque, he’s cynical, he sucks at being a father and a husband, and he’s a bit of a dirty cop, but he’s damn good at his job, even if the advantage is bought with “hush money” from Gino Tersago, notorious counterfeiter and informant along the shores of Ostend. Yet, it’s in ol’ Styxie’s preternatural afterlife when sympathy is evoked. He is filled with regret as he watches a rookie cop seamlessly take over the case of tracking down the Stuffer, a serial killer wreaking havoc on Ostend, as his wife and son move on from his death a little too quickly, and as he navigates the world… AS A ZOMBIE.

I’ve never met a Sapeur that I didn’t like

Granted, the only Sapeur I’ve ever “met” is Detective Delacroix (my favorite character in Styx), but that’s not really the point here. Detective Delacroix is a young Congalese man who embodies the La Sape subculture. It’s a fashion-centric sub-culture that seems superficial on the surface, but really these men are saying “screw you” to circumstance. I can’t even do it justice, so watch this short video instead:

So Detective Delacroix jumps to conclusions sometimes. And maybe he’s starting to develop feelings for a dead cop’s  wife. I can’t help but sympathize with this fellow because he seems to genuinely mean well, and I feel like he’s constantly trying to prove himself as an equal to Styx.

STYX is a blend of speculative fiction and crime thriller

If you’re reluctant to read crime thrillers, maybe try one that is a genre-bender. Not only is the main character a zombie in Styx, but there is an element of time travel in this novel as well. There is a lot of “hand waving” in this book though– like, I’m not really sure why Styx turned in to the zombie since it appears he is the only one, nor am I really certain why Styx was able to see Ostend’s past (like during the lifetime of Leopold II, a king of Belgium, or James Ensor, an incredible expressionist painter). But, you know what? Even though I know not every reader will be on board with that, I didn’t really care. What can I say? It was fun. I gobbled it up.

But! …And this is a medium-sized “but”…

Despite how much fun I had with this novel, I wish I could have been able to try to solve the case along side Detective Delacroix and Styx. There really is no trail of clues for the reader to follow or puzzles to solve either. The reveal ends up being a bit of a coincidence, which was kind of a let down.

Overall though, I quite enjoyed Styx by Bavo Dhooge. The premise was interesting, the characters were redeeming, the plot was fast-paced, Ostend, Belgium was beautifully portrayed, and the Stuffer was absolutely chilling.

If you’re a fan of literary translations, tell me about it in the comments. I’d love to explore more!

I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. The thoughts are ever my own.
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5 thoughts on “A Zombie Crime Thriller in Belgium? Yes, Please! | Styx by Bavo Dhooge

  1. I totally agree, talking with others about your mutal love for a book and tyring out new genres are two great things about beign a book blogger. I did the trying out new genres a lot this year and I found some new genres that I enjoy reading in. When I started blogging I mostly stayed with the YA novels and while I still read those now, I also read a lot more other genres.

    Zombies freak me out, I think they are creepy, but the combination of zombies and a crime thriller set in Belgium? That sounds pretty cool and original. I haven’t read a lot of translated books, but this one sounds well translated. Although i do wonder if the original is in dutch or french as belgium speaks both those languages. I quite like antiheroes and this books sounds pretty good. Although it’s a shame the ending was a bit of a coincidence, I prefer figuring the mystery out alongside the characetrs as well. Great review!

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  2. I love the fact that this was set in Belgium! I’ve never actually been to Ostend and I’ve lived here for 21 years. I’ll go hide now, haha. It’s a really popular place if you want to hit the coast. Not so much if there are zombies around, though.

    I have read a few translated novels and I also studied translation at one point. It can be done really well! And there are just subtle differences between countries. I find Scandinavian stories to be much more gritty usually.

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  3. This is not a genre that I would enjoy. But I did enjoy your review and smiled from the beginning to the end. I agree with you- always nice to try out different things. I enjoy translated novels so much because they help you see how things happen in a different land, with different customs. My new year resolution is to read more translated works.

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  4. I don’t love antiheroes, but I’m intrigued by the genre bending. I’m glad this step out of your comfort zone worked out for you! I loved 1Q84 and would definitely recommend picking it up this year 🙂

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  5. Bavo and I are delighted that you enjoyed STYX, Jackie. To answer Lola’s question, Bavo is Flemish, and Flemish writers generally write in Dutch, since there are 10 times as many people who *read* Dutch as read Flemish. The first draft of STYX was written in Dutch, and then Bavo and I worked together to craft an English-language version. Meanwhile, anyone who wants to experiment with reading translated crime fiction should consider picking up ELLERY QUEEN’S MYSTERY MAGAZINE, which includes a translated short story in each of its ten annual issues. In 2015, four of those ten stories were by Dutch and Belgian authors, and so far 2016’s lineup will include two stories by Belgian writers and a collaboration between masterful Dutch novelist René Appel and me. Finally, anyone specifically interested in my own work can find all ten of my Mahboob Chaudri detective stories in THE TREE OF LIFE (Wildside Press, 2015), and there’s an e-book edition titled THE MAHBOOB CHAUDRI MYSTERY MEGAPACK available on Amazon for only $0.99!

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