After being involved in a community of horror aficionado’s for over a decade now, it’s always a treat to come across new voices in the genre – those you can ascertain (without any great prodding) have an instinctual and genuine love of the genus. Though only new to this reviewer, of course. Because - as all of us working in the field today know intimately – purveying the landscape of horror in its written form is a lifelong pursuit, one that begins prematurely and is never completely abandoned. Although Where The Dead Go To Die is my first introduction to both authors on show, I foresee a relationship forming that is permanent.
As hinted by the title, this is a novel that tackles a zombie apocalypse – but of the type we seldom encounter. Here, the carnage is like background music to the greater whole: a whole that sheds a spotlight on the domestic aspect of family and relationships. Primarily, the novel is a dissection and foreshadowing of how these units respond to an enigmatic infection … and how bonds are forged and weakened by a threat that (although for the most part contained) still looms visceral and menacing in everyday life.
Emily Samuels is a single mother working as a nurse in a hospice interred with the infected. A latent disease, almost a year can transpire before the septic succumb to the labels of Smiler or Bone Eater. During this incubation period, it falls to staff like Emily to ensure this slow transition is tempered with just enough humanity to keep relatives and the populace happy. For in this realm, even the word zombie has been regulated to the shadows; books and movies dealing with the theme subjected to censorship. Of course, there are those who oppose such flagrant liberalism – who frequently picket the hospice and demand the soon to dead have no right to existence. It’s a heady concoction; a deft social commentary echoing Romero’s penchant for the same formula.
Here, the authors have painted a strong protagonist. But overall it’s the supporting characters who steal the more memorable scenes. There’s Emily’s daughter Lucette, a young girl forced to bear intimate witness to her own father’s sluggish demise. There’s Mama Metcalf, a durable member of the staff who briefly takes on the mantle of surrogate mother and grandmother. Inside the hospice, new arrivals are a constant … including young Robbie, a boy whose baptism into the undead is as taboo as it is heartbreaking. Against the backdrop of a snow-laden Chicago Christmas, all of the players converge in a showdown of wiles, death, and prejudices.
To give more away here would be an injustice to what lies in store. Though rest assured this is also a novel containing enough graceful and (at times) poetic prose that it reads much like the origami motif the authors have chosen interweave throughout. In essence, a flat piece of paper has been sculpted into a beautiful yet horrific work of art.
Note: Where The Dead Go To Die also contains many lush illustrations by the author.