Written by: Matt Molgaard
Brian Keene is a name that’s been thrown at me on numerous occasions, and after delaying the acquisition of his works for far too long, I did a little spending in order to draw my own personal conclusions as to Keene’s relevance in today’s world of horror fiction. Not only is Keene certainly relevant, he’s an author who delivers endearing works courtesy of an extremely relatable writing style. The man gives life to characters like few others, and showcases a sound awareness of current pop culture (there are a few nice nods to some great recent works, including a scene that falls straight out of the amazing 28 Days Later, and a tip of the hat to Robert Kirkman and his genius long running survival comic, The Walking Dead).
Lamar Reed had it all. Okay wait, I’m already lying: Lamar Reed had virtually nothing when a flood of zombies swarmed the mean streets of Baltimore. He’d lost a comfortable job working for a Ford plant, battled those pesky bill collectors and ultimately resorted to criminal conduct just to ensure survival. Of course, none of that mattered once the dead began to rise, hungry for the flesh of man and animal alike. But zombies aren’t the only detriment to the health of those still living. The city is on fire, and one lone escape route presents itself: the open sea.
Dead Sea distances itself from your typical zombie fare early thanks to some fine attention to detail. I’ve probably read a good 25 zombie novels inside the last six months, and one common similarity I seem to stumble across is the fact that animals are rarely affected by the… disease, shall we say. In my mind, this has always been a glaring issue for me. Is it conceivable that this horrendous plague could be isolated to a single species, thus eliminating anything other than humans contracting it? Sure, but it’s never seemed a believable plot point for me. I’ve always felt that if man is plodding through the streets in an undead state, feasting on anything living, then animals should be subjected to the same treatment. It just seems logical (here I go trying to bring logic to a zombie tale) that animals too would eventually become infected. Keene apparently heard my inner rumblings, as he’s littered Dead Sea with zombie dogs, rats, horses… you see where I’m going with this.
Another brilliant point Brian brings to light is what I like to call the “splatter factor”. Read a dozen tales dealing with the undead and at least ten of them will paint a violent image of the living, hacking, smashing and blasting their way through brainless ghouls, no regard for the plasma that sprays from the rotting beasts. For a fast-paced ultra-violent tale, sure it can work, but really, if the transfer of blood or saliva creates infection, why the hell aren’t protagonists infected after zombie blood drenches their face following a vicious corpse kill? Surely a drop or two of that gooey stuff is likely to find its way into the eyes, mouth, or an open cut. Keene confronts this oft-made error immediately, which forces his characters to act with extreme caution. Again, there isn’t much of anything “realistic” about a story of this nature, but, hypothetically speaking, were an outbreak to occur, I’d personally be looking to preserve my health at all costs, which means if I could avoid up close and personal executions, I certainly would, and if I couldn’t, I’d definitely aim to protect my face from any errant spray. Lamar and his band of survival buddies are wise enough to exercise the proper caution, and that goes a long way in creating different and unique obstacles for Dead Sea’s survivors.
While these seemingly minor details serve as major bonuses for me personally, I think the unique character outlines and sound development are what truly won me over (I can’t lie though, you had me at hello, Brian). How often is a horror story’s hero a homosexual black man? I’m not sure I’ve ever encountered such a bold maneuver, on paper or film. Yet that’s the exact description Lamar fills out, and not only does it work, it aligns some additional extraordinary challenges for the novels leading man, outside of his battle with the undead. But for as unorthodox as Lamar may be, there are some more stereotypical characters introduced that still manage to really shine, in some cases just as much as Lamar himself. Mitch – the novel’s “warrior” – is a terrific personality: kind and considerate, yet boldly violent when required to be so. Malik and Tasha, two children left to fend for themselves after having lost their parents bring spunky attitudes and an internal strength to the story that certainly merits mention, and somehow instills a quiet sense of hope to the story, after all, if there are children alive here, there may be others, somewhere, therefore there stands a chance for procreation somewhere down the line.
As is my normal custom, I’ve omitted all crucial details of this story. You may say to yourself “it’s a zombie story, I’ve seen, read and heard them all”, but in this case, there are some new angles to juggle, and I won’t be the one to spoil them for you. What I will say is this: the sea is unforgiving, and there’s no guaranteed safety in the swells of the North Atlantic. Not even for the “hero” or the “warrior”. On the dead sea, all bets are off.
You can order your copy of Dead Sea RIGHT HERE.