This "all-new-novel" is by Dean Wesley Smith, who (according to the front cover of this 2000 Byron Preiss paper-back) is the best-selling author of "The Jewels of Cyttorak". The back of the book expands on this, claiming that Mr. Smith has sold over 100 short stories, and 25 novels. Well, I guess he must be pretty good then!
First, the basics. This is a smallish paperback. 4.25" x 6.75" and only 206 pages of story. That makes it one of the shortest page-counts out of all of the Byron Preiss novels. Obviously, what it lacks in length, it will make up in pace through its 18 chapters.
Chapter One: It's snowing in New York. Spidey finds a corpse next to a circular melted patch in the snow. Corpse is Billy, or Bob, or somebody. He's the employee of tough-talking drop-dead-gorgeous female P.I. Barb Lightner. Spidey knows that, 'cos Barb turns up, and mourns poor Bob. Spidey thinks Barb is a babe, but she always gets the last word in any conversation.
Chapter Two: Peter Parker is at a bank, which is robbed by some ordinary citizens using their own licenced firearms. They don't get away with any cash, since they're all zombified, hypnotised. They snap out of it when shaken. Peter gets some good pics. But what is making them do strange things? The police want people to leave their guns at home. The zombie robbers are released on bail. One was a friend of MJ, so Peter investigates, which he would have done anyhow. Peter is tired and cold, but MJ loves him. Peter earns enough money with his pics so he doesn't need to worry about cash the next two months.
Chapter Three: Nothing new really happens. Peter/Spidey investigates. He makes more contact with Barb to investigate Bob's death. He, she, and the police all investigate the zombie robberies. A man calling himself "The Jewel" sends the Bugle a note. The Bugle starts investigating. More robberies. Spidey is cold, doesn't get enough sleep. MJ still loves him.
Chapter Four: More robberies by zombies with guns. More investigating. More Barb, police, cold, no sleep, Jewel letters. MJ loves Peter.
Chapter Five: See Chapter Four.
Chapter Six: See Chapter Five. At some stage, some people are shot by zombies with guns.
Chapter Seven and Eight: See Chapters Five and Six.
Chapters Nine, Ten, Eleven: See Previous Chapters.
Chapter Twelve: Aha! Spidey tracks The Jewel to a hotel. More Barb, police, cold, no sleep, MJ loves Peter.
Chapter Thirteen: The police assault the hotel. Police zombies with police guns.
Chapter Fourteen: Zombies with guns attack the Daily Bugle. Spidey and friends slap them one by one, nobody is hurt.
Chapter Fifteen: Spidey assaults the hotel, and is nearly zombified.
Chapter Sixteen: Spidey assaults the hotel, armed with police-provided gas cannisters. He is nearly zombified, and falls off the building, and is hurt a bit. The Jewel is immune to gas.
Chapter Seventeen: Spidey assaults the hotel, looks in the top right desk draw of the study in enthouse suite. The Jewel's source of power is there, a green jewel. He steals it and throws it to the ground. Barb shoots it, and it vanishes in an explosion. The Jewel loses his power, and his eyes.
Chapter Eighteen: Wrap-up. Peter says heart-tugging goodbye to Barb. Oh, we learn that the emerald jewel that gave The Jewel his power was highly radio-active, and had made the melted circle of snow. Bob, who was monitoring a nearby building, had spotted it. So had some petty crook, who shot Bob and took the jewel, becoming The Jewel. As a rather dull footnote, this jewel was the same (apparantly) as one of the jewels from "The Jewels of Cyttorak", also by Mr. Smith.
It's fairly impressive that a book so short could be so dull! Nothing really happens at all, but more impressively, that same nothing happens again chapter after chapter. The zombies are a completely ineffective bunch of villains, they only manage to cause a bit of random damage through the story, but there's no real tension or sense of menace. I guess it's perfectly reasonable that most New Yorkers carry concealed hand-guns on the subway... I couldn't say. I guess that's the price of freedom. Me, I'll be leaving my handguns at home now, after reading this little cautionary tale. I don't want to end up a zombie!
The Jewel himself is a bit of a wash-out too. He turns out to be a pretty dim petty criminal. Indeed, he's hardly the criminal genious type. With all that power, he does almost nothing of iterest. He eventually manages to get a few of his zombies to steal some money and drop it off to him. But given that he could persuade people to give him whatever he wanted, why go to all that fuss to recruit ineffective zombies! He gets captured because he keeps turning up and watching all the failed robberies, always wearing the same outfit. He's just so stupid!
In the end, The Jewel bunkered up in a hotel... all the police need to do is snipe him through a window. But no, they send in troops, knowing that this guy can zombify and control anybody in close proximity. Then they send in Spidey! Oh, that's clever! Let's give the guy a super-human zombie! Just whack the little crim and get it over and done with. The story could have been finished three chapters sooner.
By about chapter nine, I must admit I was reading quite eagerly... but only because I was absolutely hungry for something to happen. Anything! By the end, only a morbid sense of completeness kept me going. I was getting about as much enjoyment out of reading as I would playing solitaire. It was passing the time, that was about all.
The other characters were fairly unconvincing too. The story was told from in the first person, Spidey's point of view. But this wasn't really Spidey as I knew him. This Spidey was very cool and self-assured. In the first chapter or two he had earned enough money for the next two months. Nobody really fazed him during the story, except for Barb, who always seemed to get the last word. Clearly, Barb was supposed to be the tough ex-cop with a heart of gold, and Spidey was supposed to fall for her a bit. None of that was at all convincing.
Spidey was also totally buddy-buddy with the cops. In the end, he went into the hotel more like Captain America would do... as part of a structured, planned exercise. Not at all like Spidey. Oh, and as for Spidey's science savvy, check this out for a line. "I hoped my gloves would shield me from the radiation". Yep, Spidey picks up the "incredibly radioactive" jewel which melts through snow in seconds flat, and hopes his cloth gloves will protect him! Bwahahaha!
Hopefully I can save you from deciding to buy this book. The characters are far too flat, and the book is far too thick. One and a half webs!