Horror Book Review: Dead City (2006)

Expectations.  Sometimes expectations can really ruin your day.  I first heard about DEAD CITY (first published in 2006) around 2008 and was really eager to read it.  It’s written by a San Antonio police officer Joe McKinney and San Antonio is a stone’s throw away from where I live (Austin).  But besides the geography I wanted to read DEAD CITY because I heard it was a bad ass zombie novel.  So I went to my local Barnes and Noble; nothing.  I went to four different used book stores; nothing.  And unfortunately after a little time went by I kinda forgot about it.  But when I was doing some holiday shopping I was browsing the “New Releases” and BAM, there it was … DEAD CITY sitting on the shelf right next to McKinney’s newest release, APOCALYPSE OF THE DEAD (which I’m currently reading).  Excited like I just found the Holy Grail I grabbed both books and here I am.  And this brings me back to my original statement about expectations.  But this time, I’m happy to say, my expectations weren’t just met they were surpassed.

DEAD CITY might just be the simplest set-up ever.  San Antonio cop Eddie Hudson is having a pretty average day.  He’s fighting with his wife April, who wants him off the night shift, and he’s just running down the clock until his shift is over.  While fighting with his wife on the phone Eddie gets a call from dispatch about a public disturbance (a fight in the streets).  Eddie answers the call and as he arrives at the scene he soon realizes that this call from dispatch has forever changed his life.  Before Eddie can say “George Romero,” people from the neighborhood start approaching him with odd looks in their eyes and they won’t listen to his orders to get on the ground with their hands behind their backs.  The scene soon gets out of control and before he knows it he’s shooting civilians in the chest point blank and his bullets are having no effect whatsoever.

That’s right, Eddie has been suddenly thrust in the middle of a zombie outbreak.  The cause?  The Gulf Coast has been hit with five devastating hurricanes in less than three weeks and the less than stellar sanitation conditions in some hard-hit cities (Houston being one) have given birth to a virus … a zombie virus (here called the necrosis filovirus).  Now Eddie is in the middle of a city literally blowing up.  The infected are over-running the uninfected and spreading the virus across the city at lightning speed.  Eddie is caught between his civic duty as a cop and his loyalty and love for his wife and six month old baby boy, Andrew.

Author & the guy who helped me regain my faith in the zombie novel, Joe McKinney.

I really love this book!!  I couldn’t put it down and was devouring the pages like one of McKinney’s zombies devouring someone’s innards.  The pacing is fast, the writing is crisp and quite mature for a first novel.  McKinney’s choice of having the novel take place over the course of one night was a smart one, and by limiting the amount of characters to just a handful really helped him keep his focus.  We get some great insight into Eddie Hudson and by the end of the novel feel as though we’ve made a real friend.  McKinney develops the character of Eddie in a realistic arc.  Everything Eddie does and says makes sense and I never felt Eddie did anything that was against his character.

I think by now you all know that one of my major pet peeves with zombie novels is that either there is no character development and all we get are endless scenes of zombies killing (which gets old real fast in a novel).  My other peeve is that some authors spend so much time developing (too many) characters that they forget about the zombies and the fact they’re writing a zombie novel!!  But McKinney does an absolutely awesome job balancing these two elements.  We great great characters and development plus we get some amazing zombie violence.  Seriously; McKinney gives us enough zombie violence to fill 2-3 novels and to fill our dreams with nightmarish visions.

In the end the plot is reminiscent of Brian Keene’s THE RISING (2003), in which a man is traveling across a zombie-filled nightmarish landscape to get to his son, but the similarities end there.  Eddie feels like such a real character that it’s so easy to relate to him.  You can feel his torment as he searches the city looking for his wife and infant son.  And the people he runs into are also very well written.  Carlos and Marcus are two that immediately spring to mind.  When Eddie runs into Carlos early on in the novel he’s already been bitten and we get to watch him deteriorate through Eddie’s eyes.  McKinney does an excellent job describing not just the physiological changes Carlos goes through but also the emotional and “intellectual” changes.  Carlos isn’t around that long (and no; that’s not a spoiler), but when he’s finally gone you really feel a loss for him.

This IS NOT a photo from the novel, but this is pretty much what the zombies look like (this girl isn't as decomposed though).

Marcus, on the other hand, is a fellow cop and friend of Eddie’s (they’ve actually worked shifts together) and he is borderline nuts … but in a good way.  He deals with the death, violence, and mayhem around him by using comedy and joking around.  The interactions between Eddie and Marcus are some of the best dialogue in the novel; it’s very realistic.

There’s a ton of examples I could give of zombie novels that don’t get the balance of good characters and great zombie mayhem right (far too many to list here, in fact).  But Joe McKinney nailed the balance and gives us great characters and lots of zombie violence and gore.  I’m excited that I finally found DEAD CITY and my faith has been restored in the zombie novel.  It’s pretty simple; if you’re looking for a great zombie novel go pick up DEAD CITY.  Now if you’ll excuse me I’m gonna go start McKinney’s new novel, APOCALYPSE OF THE DEAD!!

My Summary:

Author:  Joe McKinney

Plot:  4 out of 5 stars

Zombie Mayhem:  9 out of 10 brains

Reviewed by Scott Shoyer

21 Responses to “Horror Book Review: Dead City (2006)”
  1. Amanda Young says:

    I just finished this as well and really enjoyed it. More than enough to go out and buy the sequel.


  2. joemckinney says:

    That review would make any writer proud! Thanks!


    • No need to thank me Joe … you’re the one who wrote it!! For me there’s nothing better than a kick ass zombie novel and you nailed it!! I’m already more than half way through APOCALYPSE 0F THE DEAD, so expect a review of that one pretty soon as well!!

      Thanks for stopping by my website!!


  3. Deggsy says:

    Thanks, I was looking for a good read, but one that wasn’t bloated with needless and pointless fat. Tell me the character is on a zombie-filled street, I don’t need a 30 page diversion into the history of the street, as some writers I won’t mention often do (coughcoughStephenKingcough). I tend to enjoy novels that work like movie or TV novelizations, so I can better picture the characters and action and hear the dialogue, and this sounds like one I might enjoy. Thanks again1


    • My pleasure Deggsy!! Ya know I really love a lot of Stephen King’s IDEAS, but I usually have a really difficult time getting into his writing style. I loved THE DARK HALF but I could never get ito THE STAND.

      You’ll love DEAD CITY though … its a great, fast read that gives you the best parts of the zombie genre!!


  4. Sounds like a better explanation for zombies than Brian Keene’s supercollider releases exotic particles which allow ancient Sumerian demons to return to Earth to inhabit the bodies of the dead.


    • I don’t know … “exotic particles” were proven in the 2007 experiment, “Isolating the Goofy Gene.” LOL

      Its funny you bring Keene’s books up. I found a book review I started on THE RISING (never finished the review) and whereas I liked Keene’s THE RISING and CITY OF THE DEAD, I make fun of his explanation as to the cause of the “zombie” outbreak. In fact they really aren’t zombie’s at all, are they? Its more like a massive demon possession!!


      • Exactly my issue with it. As demon possessed corpses, he really missed the boat IMO. It was a great idea, but he could have done so much more with demon possessed cadavers than mere zombie horror.


      • I agree Candace … Keene should have really taken that notion of demon-possessed corpses and been thinking on a more grandiose scale. I guess he relly wanted to write a zombie novel though!! I’m sick and tired of people saying he “redefined the zombie novel.” I enjoyed it but he didn’t redefine shit!!


      • I know. I initially geeked out over him even knowing about Middle Eastern demons, and the supercollider in my home state being the cause, well that was kind of cool too. But then he did absolutely nothing with it. It’s like he had the idea but didn’t want to do the research to make is historically accurate or interesting. He was just cashing in on the zombie craze.


  5. Mark says:

    Great review i will hunt this down here in the uk . Have you read Zombie Britannica by Thomas Emson a good and gory zombie read set in London


    • Thanks Mark!! I haven’t heard of ZOMBIE BRITANNICA but I’m definitely gonna look for it!!


      • mark says:

        Have just ordered Dead City , Joe Mckinney sounds like my kind of authur. Thomas Emson does have a twitter account and writes some gruesome horror. Great Blog !


      • Thanks Mark. I’m gonna have to look up Thomas Emson on amazon.com!! I’m already following him on twitter 🙂

        Thanks for the suggestion … I’m always looking for some badass zombie novels!!


Check out what others are saying...
  1. […] even throws in a conspiracy.  This is the third novel I’ve read by McKinney (his other two are DEAD CITY and APOCALYPSE OF THE DEAD) and I’m amazed with everything I read by him.  The previous two […]


  2. […] love zombies.  I’ve been really lucky in that the last two zombie novels I read kicked ass (DEAD CITY and APOCALYPSE OF THE DEAD, both written by Joe McKinney).  In them McKinney takes a pretty […]


  3. […] miss the mark.  Not too long ago I posted my review of Joe McKinney’‘s DEAD CITY (see review here) and praised it for capturing the elements that makes the zombie novel so much fun.  I also […]


  4. […] Yeah I know it’s kinda weird to begin the list with a novella, but a solid book is a solid book.  Ryker does something in this novella that I thought no writer cared about anymore … he made vampires scary, ferocious, and fucking terrifying again.  Set against cattle-country in a very rural area of Kansas, Ryker rekindles my love of vampires.  I forgot just how badass vampires can be.  Better yet is that I have a reviewer’s copy of BLOOD TELLS TRUE, the second book in his “Vampires of the Plains” series.  I’ll be reading this one in late January and can’t wait!! 9.  DEAD CITY (2006; Joe McKinney; my review) […]


  5. […] had an immediate fondness for McKinney and his books from the first novel I read from him, DEAD CITY.  Besides being a great, fast-paced, well-written first novel, what I really admired about […]


  6. […] became a huge fan of Joe’s last year after reading his DEAD CITY (my review here) and soon after became as ravenous as the zombies he writes about in reading up all of his novels […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: