Friday, 21 October 2011

‘Flesh Eaters’ – Joe McKinney (Pinnacle Fiction)

There’s a lot of zombie fiction out there waiting to be read; some of these books are excellent but others... not so much. As someone who loves good zombie fiction, and just so happens to have a blog, I feel it’s almost my sworn duty to point you folks in the direction of the good stuff whilst (at the same time) urging readers gently, yet firmly, away from the books that I don’t think you should be wasting your time on. It’s a very hard job (I find myself automatically enjoying a book if it has zombies in it so it is difficult to be objective sometimes) but it’s well worth it :o)

One of the authors I’ve found myself recommending here is Joe McKinney, a writer who has consistently come up with the goods with his zombie fiction. Regular visitors to the blog have more than likely already heard me sing McKinney’s praises. If you haven’t, or just want to hear me sing again, click on the links for my thoughts on Mckinney’s ‘Dead City’ and ‘Apocalypse of the Dead’.

I wasn’t sure where things could go next, after ‘Apocalypse of the Dead’, although I think there are future books planned so I’m sure I’ll find out at some point. There is a big gap to be filled though, right at the beginning (before the events of ‘Dead City’ even kick off), and that’s where ‘Flesh Eaters’ comes in; the story that tells us how it all began...

Houston has been battered by the mother of all storms but the real danger is lurking underneath the flooded streets that the storm has left in its wake. Certain flood victims may be dead but that won’t stop them trying to assuage a terrible hunger for human flesh. The fight to stay alive amidst the debris just got a lot worse...
In an attempt to limit the spread of the zombie infestation, Houston is quarantined with an order given to shot anyone approaching the fences whether they are living or dead. Emergency Ops Sergeant Eleanor Norton has been trying to uphold the law in a city that is quite literally crumbling away before her eyes; now she must fight to save her family from a creeping menace that could either be lurking beneath the waters or just round the next corner.
At the same time, others are seeking to escape the city with enough stolen money to ensure a secure future in a world suddenly gone mad. Can Norton reconcile her family’s safety with her desire to uphold the law (especially when the chief perpetrator is an old friend)? And all the while, the dead are closing in...

Whenever someone goes back in the narrative, to fill in the gaps, I find myself wondering why they didn’t just start at the beginning in the first place... I guess I’m just a linear kind of guy at heart. I guess there are all sorts of reasons for this approach and there’s no rule that a writer has to start right at the very beginning if inspiration dumps him a little further along the road.

Whether the story delivers though; that’s the main thing and I’m pleased to say that McKinney has more than delivered again. ‘Flesh Eaters’ is nothing short of a chilling read; a ‘zombie crime caper’ novel that had me gripped from beginning to end.

‘Flesh Eaters’ kicks off with a real assault on your senses as Houston is battered by an immense storm that not only finds time to completely overcome the main characters but also reaches off the page and gives you a hefty smack round the face as well. The storm is that powerful and McKinney makes you doubly aware of this by leaving you stranded in the wreckage of Houston along with everyone else. Talk about a way to really open the novel and grab you right from the word go!

Could it get any worse than that? Of course it could, there are zombies involved and McKinney goes all out to make life that much worse for the dazed people of Houston. I really enjoyed the way he did it. After the sheer intensity of the storm, McKinney dials things back a bit and has his zombies gradually appear on the scene rather than attack en masse all at once. This approach has the effect of slowly racking up the tension and that’s just the kind of thing that a book like this needs. McKinney pulls it off superbly in my opinion as the slowly growing number of zombies really highlights the ability of the authorities to contain and deal with the problem. Before you know it, the city is completely overrun and McKinney shows us this through spectacular scenes of crowds of refugees being torn apart and individuals being chased through desolate streets.

McKinney doesn’t tell us a lot more about the zombies than he has already which might not please readers of the last two books; questions have been raised in these books to which I’m sure people would like the answers. Personally, I was happy with this approach as there isn’t a lot you really need to know about zombies other than what they do (although I did miss the ethical debate raised in ‘Dead City’). You’re left in no doubt as to what McKinney’s zombies are capable of.

The other reason that I wasn’t too bothered about finding out more about the zombies is that zombie books are all about what the survivors do. That’s where the character development can be found (I can only think of one zombie that has ever really developed as a character...) and that’s where the attraction is for me, seeing just what people will do to survive...

McKinney tackles this by showing us two different extremes of what people are capable of. Everyone wants to survive but you can understand that some people might want to come out of things a little richer than they started, I think we all would.

The outcome was perhaps a little predictable (a result of McKinney’s law enforcement background perhaps?) although there is a nice little twist right at the end. What I enjoyed though was the conflict in one character in particular as he had to weigh up his principles in the face of providing for his family. McKinney did really well to come up with such a sympathetic character when you consider what this character sets out to do.
Eleanor Norton also proves to be a fine character to hang the plot off with enough conflict in her life to keep sending her in directions that she doesn’t want to go. I ended up really rooting for Eleanor as she made it her goal to do the right thing by pretty much everyone she came across, no matter what.

Despite a couple of very small niggles, ‘Flesh Eaters’ proved to be a slice of quality zombie fiction from Joe McKinney. Give it a go, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
Nine and a Quarter out of Ten

1 comment:

Ralph Meta said...

I loved all of Joe's books, he definitely deserves to be recognized as one of the best contributers to this genre in recent times. There are some good and some bad zombie novels out there but his books are definitely in the good category. If you read his first book, you will love it, but you can see how much better he gets at developing the story. Great job Joe!