Written by Joe McKinney
Published by Pinnacle Books (Kensington Publishing Corp.)
Think about where most disaster books begin, with the impending horror approaching and the novels main protagonists bracing for doom. Flesh Eaters, on the other hand, begins after a certain level of disaster, with victims piling up and crews attempting to make sense of the chaos, and with another terrifying disaster looming. One that no one can stop, and has no mercy. With such a jumping-off point, Joe McKinney drops the reader squarely into his nightmare world, and holds him there until the last page.
Flesh Eaters is centered in the real-world city of Houston, Texas, which is often threatened by massive hurricanes. In this story, one hurricane hit, followed by two more (which are bigger and nastier than the first) in rapid succession. While the city officials struggle with disaster relief and refugees, strange reports begin to filter in about deranged survivors and cannibalism. At the same time, the head of Emergency Ops hatches a scheme to steal a crapload of money from the underwater debris that’s left of the city, and while trying to help the citizens of Houston, he exposes the rest of Texas to the zombie virus.
Like every good zombie book, Flesh Eaters keeps the constant threat of the shambling dead in the background, looming over everything so that, while dangerous and frightening, the real stories here are about the people. Sure, rotting and water-bloated cannibals tend to complicate lives for the living, but so too does disease, starvation, lack of drinkable water, and other frustrations as they struggle to survive in a post hurricane wasteland. And those struggles are painted with a ferocious vividness by McKinney. The two overreaching plot arcs serve to really draw the reader in. With the first, the heist, the frustration and conflict within the captain is painfully played out, to the point where the reader sees that what he’s doing may be wrong, but we don’t blame him. We sympathize with him. The other focuses on Eleanor Norton, a sergeant with Emergency Ops trying to rescue her family and a small band of survivors who float the streets of Houston in canoes. Don’t laugh. That part has really happened.
And, by the way, McKinney’s zombies are frightening. I don’t mean the generic zombies that have come into fashion lately. I’m talking creepy as molten sin, rise-up-out-of-the-polluted-water nightmares that really have a sense of menace to them. It might just be because I’m from around the area and have been to most of the places mentioned in the book, but the level of disaster coupled with McKinney’s version of zombies is genuinely scarey.
Joe McKinney (Apocalypse of the Dead) is proving himself to be one of the great voices of the zombie-apocalypse by continuing to turn out books that disturb and intrigue. Flesh Eaters, gives readers (particularly those in Texas) an eerie view with threats from the real world, with just that little nudge to bring the shambling dead to life. It accomplishes what every horror author strives for: Real horror and just enough realism to make readers pause and ponder.
4 out of 5
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