The real-world town of Colma, California—home to about 1,600 residents and more than two million corpses in seventeen cemeteries (motto: “It’s great to be alive in Colma”)— provides an odd but effective setting for Alive in Necropolis, the quirky debut novel from Austin resident Doug Dorst. To the occasional surprise of the living, the restless spirits of Cypress Lawn rise up from their graves and squabble over everything and nothing. (Who knew the dead were so petty and contentious?) More significant to the plot are Colma’s flesh-and-blood citizens, namely rookie cop Michael Mercer and sixteen-year-old Jude P. DiMaio, who meet when Mercer finds the boy in the cemetery late one night drunk, drugged, and nearly dead. Jude, the overprivileged but underloved son of a renowned film director, won’t spill the beans on his partying pals—that would be uncool and ruin his chances with the hip kids. But Officer Mercer can empathize with Jude: He’s been the odd man out for years as his friends acquired better jobs, bigger houses, and sexier partners. Eventually it becomes clear that Alive in Necropolis’s characters are defined by what they want, not by who they are. And what better metaphor for unfulfilled desire than the walking dead trying to find closure for life’s unfinished business. Riverhead Books, $24.95