Reviewed by Scott A. Johnson
Written by Joe McKinney
In all honesty, I’d had enough of zombie books. The ones that did it right were awesome. The ones that didn’t were dismal. I really didn’t think I’d find another Z-book to up the ante at all. But then came Apocalypse of the Dead by Joe McKinney. All I can say is that McKinney has, once again, raised the bar by creating not only a solid story full of terror, but one that reaches the “epic” genre.
AotD is a simple premise. Set after the initial Z-outbreak, cities like Houston are cordoned off and full of the infected. Those who are healthy and trapped inside? Well, too bad for them. When a single fishing boat full of refugees manages to run the barricade, the reader thinks the story will be about them, until McKinney reveals that one of them is infected, and what we basically have is a plague ship waiting to start the whole zombie apocalypse over again. Amid the cast of survivors (including a retired Texas Marshal, an escaped convict, a few military types, and psychotic bikers) is a growing religious cult that lures survivors to a “promised land.”
As with most good zombie fiction, the undead are used primarily as background noise, a constant threat that drives the main characters on. However, those characters are so vivid and well constructed that the story is less about zombies and more about people. The character of Ed Moore, the retired Marshal, is particularly well drawn in that he isn’t the typical heroic badass. His knees hurt, he’s old, and we feel every ache and pain as he steps back into a role he left behind long ago. Of course, every story needs a “bad guy,” and in AotD, McKinney picked a doozy.
Those who are old enough to remember 1978 will recall a national outcry and tragedy over a little town called Jonestown, in which a crazed preacher named Jim Jones ordered the suicide of more than 900 of his followers. In AotD, McKinney brings Jones back to life in vivid and terrifying fashion. Named “Jasper” here, the preacher is a carbon copy of Jones, all the way down to his waxy skin and rose-tinted sunglasses. But then, that might be what makes the character so chilling. It might also be the guile he uses to get his followers to bow to his every whim.
Also important to the story is McKinney’s deft hand at detail, even in the most gruesome times. Through his description (or, in the case of his blind heroine Kyra, lack thereof), the readers squirm and twist as every tough decision is made and every infected person is put down.
There is a great deal to love about this book and only a few things that don’t work so well. While reaching for the epic scope, the book does tend to meander a bit in places, rambling off the beaten track while it tries to figure out how to get its characters back on the proverbial bus. There are also a few issues unsolved, which I assume will be taken care of in a follow-up.
Taken as a whole, AotD is full of wonderful characters who step up when called upon as well as scathing statements about giving in to religious fervor. It asks important questions about in whom folks place their trust and why. But more to the point, the book is just damned entertaining.
4 out of 5
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