Friday, 4 November 2011

‘Dead of Night’ – Jonathan Maberry (St. Martin’s Griffin)

There are loads of great zombies books out there (shambling in the wild...) and I hope that this blog has been able to point you in the direction of the best ones, as well as helping you steer clear of the ones that... well... aren’t so good. Out of all of these zombie fiction writers (great though they are) only one, that I’ve come across, has really placed the whole notion of zombies firmly in the twenty first century and married the concept to twenty first century hopes and fears. Step forward Mr Jonathan Maberry.


What’s even better about Maberry is that he achieved this notable feat in just one book, ‘Patient Zero’, a novel that takes the very real fear of global terrorism and adds zombies into the mix. I couldn’t get enough of it and it’s a source of slight shame that I haven’t got round to picking up Maberry’s ‘Rot and Ruin’ just yet. I’ll have to take care of that sometime very soon. ‘Dead of Night’ only arrived a few days ago but quickly jumped the queue due to the intensity of the blurb on the back of the book. Could what was inside possibly match up to that? The answer is a very definite yes...

A prison doctor has come up with a way of dispensing justice that reaches far beyond the death sentence. A condemned serial killer is injected with a formula that will keep his consciousness alive within a body that is slowly rotting away in the grave; all he needs is to be buried for the punishment to be complete. It’s perhaps inevitable then that he wakes up before that burial can happen; our killer wakes up not only hungry for flesh but also highly contagious... The next few days are going to be hell on earth for the people of Stebbins County and it’s only going to get worse when the nation’s leaders are forced into making some very tough decisions.

This is the way the world ends; not with a bang... but a bite.

It took me a couple of days to finish off a couple of other books first and then I was free to devote my attention to ‘Dead of Night’. Little did I know though that it was going to work the other way round... ‘Dead of Night’ is a book that isn’t happy to just settle for what attention you’re prepared to give it; we’re talking about a book that demands nothing less than your entire attention and it is prepared to go to any lengths to make sure it gets it. I couldn’t put ‘Dead of Night’ down until it was done.

I used to think that the best way to portray a zombie infestation was to go really light on any explanation and just let the main players deal with what’s in front of them. After all, it doesn’t matter how the outbreak kicked off, surviving is the main thing isn’t it? I still believe this but what I am finding these days is that I don’t mind a little explanation after all, just so long as a half decent job (at the very least) is done of it. Maberry half hits the target as far as this goes. The science behind the outbreak is plausible, sketchy enough to avoid determined scientific analysis (after all, we’re talking about zombies here) but detailed enough for the reader to want to run with that explanation and see where the plot takes it. Where Maberry fell down, as far as I was concerned, was that he seemed to want to interrupt his own plot with a little too much explanation at all the wrong times. The plot is buzzing like a caffeinated wasp... and then everything grinds to a halt while we get a little more explanation. Certain of Maberry’s characters are also a little too keen to show off their knowledge and this doesn’t help maintain that frantic pace either.

This is a shame as when the plot is allowed to have its head, Maberry comes up with a zombie novel that is very special indeed. Maberry’s outbreak spreads very quickly and the plot not only keeps up with this but also speeds things up further with an inept military presence unable to contain the outbreak (without using deadly force) and a race against time as debate arises over whether the ultimate sanction should be put to use. Maberry’s outbreak is chronicled in great detail and you come away with an understanding of just why things had to happen like that, whether you agree with the reasoning or not. I felt really sorry for the guy with cerebral palsy who was mistaken for a zombie by National Guardsmen...

Maberry puts the surrounding countryside to superb use; a landscape where zombies can hide beneath the trees and attack before you even know that they are there. There are moments that are nasty as well as scary; Maberry offers his readers a story from the zombie’s perspective and this makes for scenes that prove that Maberry won’t shy away from the worst moments of a zombie apocalypse. You might even find yourself feeling a little sorry for certain zombies afterwards...

The characters fighting to survive the outbreak don’t offer any real surprises (you’ve met their like before in other books) but were still well drawn enough to make me want to follow them through the plot. Maberry takes established character tropes (the traumatised cop, the investigative journalist with a heart and so on) and turns them into people that you can engage with and ultimately care about their fate. The explosive ending is testament to that and I’m hoping that ending will prove to be the beginning of one more book at least.

‘Dead of Night’ might want to explain itself a little too much, at times, but when it’s really allowed to get going then zombie fans are in for a real treat of a read. Writers of zombie fiction should take note and up their game accordingly...

Nine and a Half out of Ten

7 comments:

SQT said...

I'm about half way through this right now and it is *really* good.

canada youngster said...

This book brings some thrill to me and not boring to read. I might consider buying it, thanks for sharing.

Oathsworn said...

Thanks for tip.

I still have "Ghost Road Blues" here. Waiting to be read, but my pile of books is growing and growing..

Bets Davies said...

I don't know. . . .like you I am generally really unfond of reasons for Zombies. Unless it involves Buffo Toads being ground up or jelly fish. Most of the time if you are going to play with horror, the very horror is that you have little idea of why. Vampires tend to come with a little more history due to extended lives and full mental capacities, but I don't even like them to dwell on the past.

A lot of the scare of zombies, werewolves, the like, is that you DON"T know. This isn't some science we will no better to allow. This is no human mistake or human design. It is OTHER. Not the human realm. Not our understanding. It crops up in unlikely places. It could be anywhere. It has nothing to do with morals or patterns. It could be right outside your door. Unreasoning malevolence.

After that rant, I will admit I like 28 Days Later. But that end of the world (or Britain, anyway) vision is masterfully filmed, and created on complex characters highlighted by superb acting. So I let it go.

Bryce said...

It IS a shame that you haven't done Rot and Ruin yet. The second book's out now, and I loved them both. My wife asked me what I was reading during the first one, and I said, "Well, I'm pretty sure that it could best be described as a young adult post-apocalyptic coming-of-age zombie horror western." That got me a weird look, but it's totally true.

OrionNova said...

If you enjoyed DEAD OF NIGHT, you can download seven free bonus scenes from Jonathan Maberry’s website. Here’s the link: http://jonathanmaberry.com/happy-holidays-from-jonathan

Eesti said...

Dead of Night was a new look at a zombie apocalypse. Maberry brings a realistic explanation of how zombies could be created by parasites. The military creating a bio-weapon that gets into the wrong hands, infecting a serial killer and then a small town & how the government would react to such a thing happening. The characters are well developed.