Reviewed by Johnny Butane
Written by Brian Keene
Published by Leisure Books
If you were to take all the scenarios in which the dead have come back to life since George A. Romero first came up with the idea (more or less) in Night of the Living Dead, chances are you’d have a very large variety of names and titles, but very few new ideas among them.
I regret to say this, but such is the case with Brian Keene’s latest horror offering, Dead Sea. As I had feared when I read the first chapter of it at the back of his last book, Ghoul (review), Brian has returned to the zombie-infested world that has made him so damn popular, but has little new to say about it.
Before you ask; yes, Dead Sea is set in the same world as Keene’s first two zombie novels, The Rising (review) and City of the Dead (review), though gone are all traces of sentient intelligence that the dead displayed in those two books; indeed the fact that the zombies are actually just reanimated corpses possessed by some otherworldly intelligence is never brought up, making Dead Sea even more of a “typical” zombie story.
This time out, our main character is a gay black man, surely the most repressed of the repressed, named Lamar who when we first meet him is eking out an existence after the dead have taken over in his ghetto-centric apartment in Baltimore. Things get worse and worse as he looses everyone around him, until he’s by himself and feeling the real pains of loneliness.
So when the city catches on fire, it’s actually a good thing. Lamar is forced out of his apartment and into the streets, where he’s almost overrun by the dead numerous times before being rescued by a pair of kids who have been fighting it out on their own for weeks. They bring him in and he explains they need to leave, immediately, since the city is burning and all, so they head down to the waterfront.
There they find a Coast Guard boat full of people that’s just getting read to leave the dock; the barely manage to make it on board in time, just as seemingly every dead person in Baltimore catches up with them. Hints are made from this moment forward of the big dramatic turn the book will take as soon as it looks like they’re all in the clear about 200 pages in, so pay attention.
So now they’re out to sea with a gaggle of other survivors and the usual issues of how they’ll survive and when they’ll go are discussed ad nasuem. Luckily for them all, a man who knows the ship and the ocean like the back of his hands just so happens to be captaining the vessle, so he tells ‘em what they need to do and when.
Characters are introduced left and right, only to be killed off in one way or another. The only one you really care about is Lamar, though I honestly didn’t think he was very well fleshed-out. The whole book is told from his perspective as if he were writing it all down for “someone” to see, a narrative technique Keene seems very fond of. There is something to be said for being face to face with the horror through the viewpoint of one character, but you also immediately loose some dramatic tension since you know said person is never going to be in any serious danger, since he’s survived long enough to write down an account.
I wish I could think of some overwhelmingly positive things about Dead Sea that would convince you to get out there and nab it right away, but there’s just nothing that glaringly great about it. It’s a standard story of people trying to outrun the shambling dead, only set on a boat instead of a farmhouse or an apartment complex. The only interesting things done with it are the types of zombies that eventually show up, but even that is not very surprising considering the title.
Personally I would really like to see Keene go back to his smaller, more intimate horror stories for a while and leave the apocalypse alone. While his last book didn’t set me on fire, it showed a lot of the potential I originally got when I read Terminal (review) and I had hoped he would stick with it for a while.
The next offering is Dark Hollow, Leisure’s re-titled release of The Rutting Season, which is another smaller story but one I admittedly didn’t dig too much. The fact remains that I know Keene’s got more to him than just tales of zombies or giant worms and that’s really what’s going to set his place in the minds of fans when they start seeing it, too.
3 out of 5
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