Thursday, August 4, 2011

Dead of Night by Jonathan Maberry

Few writers over the past decade have made quite the triumphant impact on dark fiction than one Jonathan Maberry. In a relatively short space of time, he has cut a gigantic swath through the zombie sub-genre, setting up quarantine to make it his official home and having something new to say each time. As a purveyor of horror fiction for most of my remembered life, I am now at pains to divulge the sad fact Dead of Night is my first incursion into his world.

But what a world it is.

Of course, his epic profile has not escaped my attention; Jonathan seems to be from a league of extraordinary gentleman (a clique including authors such as Kevin J Anderson and Scott Nicholson), who work tirelessly behind the scenes of the publishing frontier. A writer’s writer … but also a fanboy who will take the time out of a brutal schedule to speak to the masses on social media and at programmed events. So when the call came through that a stand-alone zombie extravaganza was in the offing, it seemed like the perfect time to put my hand up and survey the dark places of Jonathan's world. 

A retired Russian spy now working covertly as a penitentiary doctor, Dr. Herman Volker has devised the ultimate vengeance on humanity’s greatest human monsters by concocting a substance that prolongs life even while the body rots. Using his position in the prison hierarchy he injects this serum into condemned serial killer Homer Gibbon with the sure knowledge his body will see burial on prison grounds. But the body does not. Leading Homer Gibbon to awaken in a state that defies comprehension: dead, hungry, and utterly contagious …

Desmodia Fox is a loose canon. A proper small town cop but lacking essential people skills that have seen her labeled a ‘bitch’ by anyone unlucky enough to brush past even her peripheral awareness. Only her partner J.T can see the diamond in the rough ... and when the Zombie apocalypse finally breaks out in Stebbins County, Desmodia’s willful moxie will be the ultimate fighting weapon in a clash to keep everyone they know human.

Right off the bat this is a slick ride, the tone of the author effortless and full of humor. Chapters are even interspersed with the svelte voice of a radio announcer (making me think of Pontypool), as a ferocious storm bears down on the community. The action is jumped up and hot-wired, the language bursting with the textured grain of an exploitation flick. A second plot-strand featuring news reporter Billy Trout (an ex-flame of Dezmodia’s), and his co-worker is where the reader will find the most interesting character development with keen, witty dialogue reminiscent of those who walk among us.

But all of this would be meaningless without our main power-players: the dead. Here they stroll through the pages with every vital ingredient to make the gut churn. It’s the reaction of our humans that make them truthful: in their genuine loathing of the parasites we encounter a species of zombie original in conception as the primary concoction of Dr. Volker continues to do its work. A mass metamorphosis then ensues bringing about a different species … but it’s the original that remains the most terrifying: being trapped within a prison of undead flesh while still aware of everything that was once you and praying for a second, more secure embrace of the afterlife.

For me, there is only one pet peeve here, and it’s a quirk pertinent to dozens of books and movies in the genre: for our character's to embrace the word ‘zombie’ only within the final stage … as if all the literature and celluloid to have come before has never existed. However, I'm hardly the Zombiephile on these Australian shores, so lore isn't exactly my sticking point.

With Dead of Night, Jonathan Maberry gives us a stand alone Zombie novel exceeding expectations. This is how the world ends. Not with a bang … but a bite.