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Friday, March 2, 2012

What I'm Reading: Dead of Night

This is a cross post with RA for All

We are 2 days away from Jonathan Maberry's visit to RA for All on his blog tour to promote Dead of Night.  Full disclosure: Maberry's publicist sent me a free copy of this book for review.  But, I also had already purchased a copy for the BPL before receiving my free copy.

In preparation for the interview, which does include specific questions about Dead of Night, here is my review of the book.

Dead of Night is a zombie novel (as the subtitle tells us), but it is different than the bulk of today's zombie novels, even different than Maberry's critically acclaimed YA zombie series which begins with Rot and Ruin (link goes to my review of that novel).  Why?  This can be answered by Maberry himself in Chapter One which reads, in its entirety: "This is how the world ends."

That being said, I should say, this is a horror zombie novel, not a literary fiction one like Zone One, or a humorous one like Breathers, or even a political thriller one like Feed.  Dead of Night  is for horror fans who want to feel the dread and anxiety, who know bad things are going to happen and are turning the pages expecting them.  Remember, as the first line tells us, "This is how the world ends." Do not pick up this book and expect a happy ending.  Personally, I love that, but some readers may not.

But if you are looking for a serious horror treatment of the popular zombie craze that is well written and  great fun to read.  This is the book for you.

While most of today's zombie novels take a critical look at the world as it stands after the zombie apocalypse (click here for numerous reviews of some of the best of these books), Dead of Night is the detailed, action-packed story of how the apocalypse begins.  Here we get a step-by-step account from all sides of how 1 infected person can mean the beginning of the end for human civilization.  There is no "after" picture here.  We get the details of the apocalypse as it begins from every angle, and we are left just as it is about to escalate.

As the novel opens we are in rural Western PA and a storm is quickly approaching (a double whammy of the popular isolated setting for horror).  Local law enforcement are called to a possible break-in at the local funeral home.  The body that was just delivered secretly (and unexpectedly) to that funeral home is of a notorious serial killer, Homer Gibbon.  But before he was executed in prison, Gibbon was given an injection by Dr. Volker containing a formula designed to keep him conscious and awake while his body rots in the grave.  Before he can be buried, Gibbon wakes up.  He is conscious and fully aware, but is also very hungry...

The story is told in what has become Maberry's go-to winning style.  He blends elements of traditional horror -- an unearthly monster, a troubled hero, an atmosphere of extreme unease, an isolated setting, and  a relentless provocation of terror-- with the emerging genre of the supernatural thriller-- detailed investigative elements, a human villain out to kill, fast paced action, and shifting points of view from heroes to killer.

Like all Maberry novels there are many characters, some who only get a moment or two's turn at telling the story from their perspective.  Some reader's may not like the jumping around, but anyone who has read one of Maberry's best selling Joe Ledger novels will be familiar with this story telling technique.  Personally, I love it, especially when we get just a moment from the perspective of someone as they are being attacked.  This technique adds to the unease of the story, and this anxious state of unease and terror is the main reason why someone reads and enjoys a horror novel in the first place.  Maberry has a compelling dread filled story already, but the switching point of view across many characters ratchets it up to a whole new level.

That being said, there are a few main characters here.  Our 2 heroes are Dez, a female, ex-vet, now cop who has had a troubled life and her ex-boyfriend "Trout," a journalist best known for his sensational pieces.  Our villains are Dr Volker and serial killer Gibbon mentioned.  There is one other pov that I found very moving and absolutely loved as it came out periodically throughout the novel, that of the funeral home director, Doc Hartnup.  In fact, without giving anything away, Doc's pov was a fresh addition to the zombie novel tradition.

The shifting points of view, also speed up the pacing here.  As a reader, you are seeing all sides to the issue.  We know a zombie plague has begun to be spread even before the police on the ground do.  We see the government preparing a response.  We see Homer running around the county.  We are afraid, but we keep turning the pages because we are rooting for Dez and Trout to figure it all out in time to save the day. You also keep reading because as a horror fan, you love this stuff.

I have to say I also enjoyed following the spreading infection in such a detailed fashion.  The short chapters and shifting action mimicked the confusion and panic that was spreading with the plague.

One of my general complaints about novels today is that many of them have "third act issues."  You are reading a great book and then the author runs out of steam, and it ends flatly.  Geraldine Brooks Dead of Night which delivers right through the last page.  The story line following Trout and Dez has its resolution, but we also have a great, twist at the end.

If you think traditional, strongly written horror is in decline, read this book.  The only unpleasant side effect you may have is that it will make much of the other books you are reading look bad.

Three Words That Describe This Book: dread, compelling, multiple points of view

Readalikes:  I have had much to say about zombie novels here.  And, yes they are my favorite horror subgenre, so I am biased.  I would suggest you read these posts to see my favorites, but I would like to highlight a few which I feel are fairly similar:

  • The type of zombie here are reminiscent of those in Nate Kenyon's Sparrow Rock.
  • The Rising by Brian Keene is the novel that is widely credited with beginning the 21st Century zombie craze.
  • Joe McKinney's excellent zombie series which begins with Dead City is a great all around readalike option here.  In McKinney's series we also follow a policeman as a zombie plague rising out of the destruction caused by a series of hurricanes slowly takes over an isolated town.  Fans of Dead of Night who are craving more should check out McKinney right away.

Although The Ruins by Scott Smith does not contain a single zombie, these two books are very similar in tone, story telling technique, and in how they are ended.  Readers of my blog know my love for The Ruins already though.

I also offered author readalikes to Maberry a few days ago here.

Come back on March 4th to see more about Dead of Night from Jonathan Maberry himself.

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