TV preacher Jake Connaway has just died – to be honest, he was murdered. By the boyfriend of the woman he was sleeping with. Well, not so much sleeping with as banging while she was bent over a chair and her head up against a TV showing Jake’s evangelical show.
So it’s pretty clear that Jake isn’t much of a Christian, and this becomes undeniable when Jake emerges from his coffin three days after his death and with the help of his wingman/bodyguard Gray proceeds to massacre the mourners. Then Jake and Gray head to the house of Jake’s wife Esther, who’s currently haggling with others who knew Jake and trying to figure out where Jake’s churchly income went, to start a one-man Armageddon.
Jake’s Wake starts off promisingly with fairly deft characterization and heaping piles of grue (both familiar to anyone who’s read John Skipp’s splatterpunk heyday collaborations with Craig Spector). Skipp and collaborator Cody Goodfellow show the claustrophobia of the location (with most of the characters trapped at an isolated, decrepit ranch) and the escalating hopelessness of the situation.
Unfortunately the book (rather like the undead Jake himself) starts falling apart at the halfway point. Skipp and Goodfellow take a book that is already overburdened with characters (many of whom have names beginning with the same letter, adding to the reader’s confusion) and add even more people, most of whom are killed off almost immediately to no purpose. The ending is extremely muddled, making reference to events the reader hasn’t been told about.
But the most crucial failing is in the portrayal of Jake. Eye-catching as that opening scene is, it tells the reader everything about Jake – there’s no mystery to him, no revelation, and he comes off as cartoonish rather than frightening much of the time. Moreover, the portrayal makes anyone who has fallen for his false promises of salvation come off as deluded or an idiot, and fudges the moral message that Skipp and Goodfellow clearly want to convey.
Despite its flaws, Jake’s Wake is a fairly entertaining read, ideal for a plane trip when you won’t be wanting something substantial. It’s just a frustrating experience in that it could have been so much more than it is.