Thursday, 17 September 2009

From My Bookshelf... ‘Dead City’ – Joe McKinney

This one is for Thea, over at the Book Smugglers who said nice things about the blog a couple of days ago! :o) Actually, this was one that I’d been planning on posting about ever since I read a zombie fiction discussion thread over at the Westeros board. The recommendations for good zombie fiction were flying around and I threw ‘Dead City’ into the mix. Then it struck me that it had been a while since I’d picked this one up and it was about due a re-read...

The Texas Gulf Coast has been battered by five hurricanes in just three weeks. The death toll is mounting but the survivors have far more to worry about as they sift through the wreckage. A virus has broken out. The living are safe from this, all they have to worry about are the dead that the virus is somehow bringing back to life.
San Antonio police officer Eddie Hudson is on shift when the city falls to an undead horde intent on getting its fill of human flesh. All Eddie wants to do now is make it home to his wife and son but this one simple aim will involve a battle like none he has ever faced before. It’s a whole new world out there and Eddie is about to discover, at first hand, just what it will take to survive in it...

While other zombie books, that I’ve read (and I haven’t read them all, yet!), deal with humanity’s attempts to survive in an already broken world, ‘Dead City’ pitches the reader right in at the start of it all as things kick off for the first time. The zombies are relentless in their advance and everyone else has been caught totally unprepared. No-one knows what is going on, only that something is very wrong. At the same time though, nothing is set in stone. There’s carnage on the streets but it’s still early enough in the day that our heroes could turn everything around. Anything could happen and this makes for a delicious blend of tension that drives the plot forward.

The reader sees the gradual collapse of San Antonio through Eddie Hudson’s eyes and I think that McKinney made a good choice in this respect. Eddie is there right at the very beginning as a simple public disturbance call becomes a lot more. Through Eddie, we witness the first stand off between armed police and zombies and the massacre that ensues. Eddie’s journey through San Antonio also serves to give the reader a panoramic view of the devastation and introduce us to the other players in this drama. Our hero is a single minded and obsessed character but some situations demand this mindset so we can forgive Eddie for focussing on his aims to the exclusion of everything else. It’s a shame then that McKinney chickens out with the ending, opting to play it safe instead of explore what Eddie’s reaction would be if the worst case scenario came to pass. Having said that though, maybe Eddie has already seen too much (and he does see a lot go down!) and can be excused the ultimate test of nerve...

‘Dead City’ also takes time out from its ‘zombie dodging’ exploits to ask some interesting questions (along with the regular ‘Would you shoot your father if he was a zombie?’ stuff that you would expect to find). The big one is whether the virus kills its subjects at all and what people should do with the zombies until an answer is found. This question is quite rightly left open ended (this vagueness is important concerning how the book ends) but other questions leave the reader hanging when perhaps some kind of conclusion would have tied things off satisfactorily. The plot doesn’t stop for anyone (there’s no time to hang around!) but things like why the zombies are herding together was an interesting point that I wanted to see a little more of.

Despite these niggles though, ‘Dead City’ does its job very well. I’ll admit to some bias here (anything with zombies in it is a winner as far as I’m concerned!) but the bottom line is that if you’re a zombie fan then you could do a lot worse than pick this one up.

Eight and a Half out of Ten


Harry Markov said...

THANK YOU! I am so on this, when I visit Britain in February to buy and read this one. I am a zombie sucker myself and anything hinting to the living undead wins my adoration.

vvb32 reads said...

Sounds like a good one to add to my tbr pile. I've recently turned zombie and really am enjoying the genre.

Thea said...

Hey, a review for *me*?!?! Hee! Thanks Graeme. Or perhaps I should be angry, because I have another book I must add to my shopping cart!

I love a good thought-provoking zombie book and this one sounds like it goes a little further than the usual (and delicious) blood and brains. Thanks for the excellent review and recommendation!

Joe McKinney said...


Thanks for the great review! You really took the book to task and got at the questions I was hoping people would ask.

And just to address your main point...The ending of Eddie's narrative may seem a bit of a cop out (no pun intended), but I think you'll see when the sequel comes out in October 2010 that Eddie just didn't have all the facts. Things are definitely not fine, and the sequel will make a liar out of Eddie.

By the way, the sequel will be called Cataclysm (Kensington, 2010).

Thanks again, Graeme! Great review!