Zombies on the high seas!! Again? Yes but this time they’re not Napoleonic zombies (see my review of ‘Death Hulk’) or zombies with machine guns. These are a more ‘old school’ style of zombie with just enough intelligence to shamble around and look for brains to eat. Although they’re easy enough to get away from; it’s not so easy when you’re stuck on a boat with them (especially when there’s zombie killer whales swimming around)… This is the premise of Brian Keene’s latest foray into the world of the undead. I love it and if you’re a fan of zombies (in any shape or form) then I suggest you get yourself a copy of this straight away.
When he’s not foraging for food, Lamar Reed sits in his Baltimore house and waits for the end to come. Outside, ‘Hamelin’s Revenge’ (the zombie epidemic) has a deathgrip on the city and it’s not human corpses that are looking for lunch, undead pets, rats and even cattle are looking for a meal as well. Events force Lamar out of his house and eventually into an old coast guard ship heading out for open sea. Surely the safest thing to do, in a situation like this, is to put miles of water between you and the mainland? You would have thought so wouldn’t you…?
His last two novels (‘The Conqueror Worms’ and ‘Ghoul’) were first rate stuff but, for me, Keene returns to what he does best in this book and delivers a heart-pumping tale of terror and heroism in a post apocalyptic world. In a world where the slightest hint of infected blood can kill (and then reanimate…) Keene does not hold back in his visceral descriptions of life at the sharp end of a zombie onslaught. If you’ve read his other stuff then you know what to expect, if you haven’t then you may want to consider reading this on an empty stomach! It’s not all gore though, Keene displays a more thoughtful side to his fiction when he asks the question ‘at what point do the odds against you become so high that you just stop fighting?’ All of the characters answer this question in their own way but the main focus of the story is on Lamar’s move towards ‘hero status’. This is the only part of the book where I felt that Keene laboured the point a little too much. Actions speak louder than words and I don’t think the reader really needs a detailed exposition, from one of the other characters, as to why Lamar is a hero. ‘Purist’ zombie fans may not like how the epidemic spreads but I think it’s a very plausible idea and am surprised not to see more evidence of this in the genre.
Keene is also gradually developing a mythos (‘The Labyrinth’) that will tie all his books together and, as a fan, it was good to see evidence of this continuity in ‘Dead Sea’. Definitely good to see old faces and names and names again!
At times ‘Dead Sea’ tries to explain itself a little too much but is ultimately a great example of zombie fiction. Romero’s ‘Land of the Dead’ and Stephen King’s ‘Cell’ are looking on enviously and wishing that they got similar treatment…
Nine out of Ten