Horror Book Review: Apocalypse of the Dead (2010)

It’s amazing how one writer can “get” what makes the zombie novel so goddamn enthralling while other writers, talented writers, completely 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 appreciated that McKinney only had about 2-3 main characters (by my count at least) and had the entire novel take place during one horrify night in one location (San Antonio) and from one person’s perspective (San Antonio cop Eddie Hudson).  So what does McKinney do in his latest, APOCALYPSE OF THE DEAD?  There’s a ton of main characters, we get the perspective from every character, the novel takes place over the course of months, and the action takes place all over America.  It may seem like McKinney read my review and did everything opposite of what I liked in DEAD CITY.  The result … he hit another home run.  APOCALYPSE is another scary, violent, and extremely fun ride through a nightmarish landscape that was once America.

McKinney wrote a zombie book between DEAD CITY and APOCALYPSE called QUARANTINED.  I haven’t yet read that one (haven’t been able to find it), but the first thing I notice in APOCALYPSE is how much McKinney’s writing style has matured.  As I mentioned above, we go from focusing on one main character to at least 8-12 main characters (at least).  Each character is well fleshed out and we get backgrounds and really interesting insight into all the characters.  The story begins a few years after the action in DEAD CITY.  A gigantic containment wall has been built around the Gulf Coast States in order to contain the zombie outbreak (I’m assuming this was the plot of McKinney’s QUARANTINED).  But the government didn’t evacuate all the survivors before the wall went up so a lot of uninfected people (called Uncles) got caged in with millions of zombies.

McKinney takes his time and details the new branch of government that has risen out of the ashes and which patrols the wall.  Is this a thinly disguised commentary about immigration?  I think that’s pretty obvious, but McKinney doesn’t shove any messages down our throats.  One particularly dark night a boat full of Uncles sneaks past the quarantine defenses.  The only problem is there was an infected person aboard, and by the time the boast reaches the Florida coast everyone onboard has been turned.  From Florida the infection sweeps across the country and the world like a gasoline-fueled brush fire.  McKinney largely stays focused on what’s going on in America and does so with keen insight.  His writing is scary in that it feels like something like this could actually happen.  It was just a matter of time before some of the infected snuck past the quarantine defenses; the men patrolling the wall were over-worked and extremely stressed out.  McKinney gives us a frighteningly realistic scenario that feels all too real.

Author Joe McKinney.

All the characters here are so goddamn well written.  To me the three main characters are Michael Barnes, a helicopter pilot who patrolled the wall; Ed Moore, a 70-something year old retired U.S. Marshall who’s still tough as nails; and Jasper Sewell, a self-proclaimed savior and preacher who builds a safe haven up in North Dakota that isn’t as safe as it first seems.  Like I said, I believe these to be the three essential characters but there are so many important people here that I can’t believe McKinney himself remembered them all.  There’s Billy Kline, who was on a prison chain gang when the dead first reached Florida and who eventually befriends Ed Moore; Ben Richardson, a reporter who’s chronicling the end of the world and also the decline of Barnes’ sanity; Nate Royal, an imbecile from Pennsylvania who might just hold the key to a cure; Aaron, Jasper’s right hand man; and a ton of other characters.  By the end of the novel you come to know and relate to each and every character intimately and really feel for them and their respective fates.

And let’s talk about Ed Moore and Michael Barnes:  It’s pretty damn ballsy for any writer to make one of the heroes of a novel a 70-something year old man (Ed Moore).  At first I thought I’d never be able to relate to him but gradually found myself more and more relating to Ed’s situation and his outlook on the situation.  Michael Barnes, on the other hand, is a character you’ll immediately relate too.  He’s tough as nails, is an expert at killing zombies, and can survive any situation.  But Barnes is also an extremely complex character … in fact next to Repairman Jack (the character in a series of novels written by F. Paul Wilson) Barnes is one of the best characters I’ve ever come across in any novel in quite some time.  Period.  McKinney creates such a complex character and he makes us question his motives and sanity, but all in a very logical and consistent way.  McKinney really has a knack for creating great characters and developing them and taking them in some truly interesting places.  But he never takes gigantic leaps with his characters (which you all know I hate).  McKinney expertly shows how Barnes slowly loses his grip over the course of the entire novel.  Barnes isn’t “good” at one point and then “evil” the next.  We get to see a very slow yet steady mental decline.  Its a really brilliant character!!

This isn't from any of McKinney's novels, but it's pretty damn appropriate!!

I bet all this sounds like McKinney has fallen into the trap of “too many characters and not enough zombies,” but don’t worry.  I said he had enough zombie violence to fill 2-3 books in DEAD CITY, well here he goes even further.  Over the years, the necrosis filovirus has mutated and the result is horrifying.  We get what are called Stage One, Stage Two, and Stage Three zombies and believe me the Stage Three zombies are absolutely horrifying!!  McKinney balances telling a complex story with detailed characters as well as giving us tons of zombie violence.  If you can’t tell by now, I really love this novel.  We follow the various groups of survivors as they fight to make their way up to North Dakota where Jasper’s has created a “paradise.”  Oh Jasper … Jasper is the scariest character of them all and that includes the zombies!!  Metaphorically he creates more dangerous zombies than the necrosis filovirus, and just wait until you see how McKinney slowly peels away the layers of Jasper’s character to reveal a true megalomaniacal man who is evil beyond belief.  And what makes Jasper so evil?  Jasper actually believes he’s helping people and making them safer by joining his Family.  A shudder just ran up my spine thinking about it.

The one negative thing I can say here is that at the end of the novel I felt we didn’t get closure with all the various characters, but I also think this isn’t the end of the zombie world McKinney created.  If you are writing another in the series, please hurry because I really need to know what happened to some of the characters.

This is a no brainer people.  Joe McKinney took what he did in DEAD CITY and blew it up in every way:  More characters, more locations, more zombies, more graphic violence.  I loved APOCALYPSE OF THE DEAD and could barely put it down.  Definitely check this one out!!

My Summary:

Author:  Joe McKinney

Plot:  4.5 out of 5 stars

Zombie Mayhem:  5 out of 5

Reviewed by Scott Shoyer

I normally don’t do this (in fact I’ve NEVER done this), but check out the links below to get McKinney’s zombie trilogy on amazon.com (and look for McKinney’s FLESH EATERS coming out in April 2011)!!


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Comments
6 Responses to “Horror Book Review: Apocalypse of the Dead (2010)”
  1. joemckinney says:

    Hey Scott,

    This review was outstanding! Thank you! I’m thrilled you liked the book. This series is a work in progress, and, since Dead City’s initial publication, has grown to include four novels and six novellas. Book 3, called Flesh Eaters (which you mention above) is coming out in April and takes place during the storms that flooded Houston and chronicles the rise of the Quarantine Authority. Book 4 is called The Zombie King and takes place about eight years after Apocalypse of the Dead. That one should be out in sometime in 2012, and will go into a lot more detail on the natural history of zombies. In the meantime, if any of your readers want to see how the whole series fits together, I prepared a reader’s guide and posted it over at my blog. Here’s a link to it:

    http://joemckinney.wordpress.com/a-readers-guide-to-dead-world/

    Thanks again for the fantastic review!

    Joe

    Like

    • Thanks for stopping by and giving me and my readers some inside info on you zombie series!! I can’t wait for the future novels. Where can we all go to find the 6 novellas you mention?

      I can assure you that I’ll be patiently waiting and voraciously reading up all your zombie stories in the future!!!

      Like

  2. Joe’s a great writer.

    Scott

    Like

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  2. […] (OUTPOST), and even a zombie novel where the main character is a 70-something year old man (APOCALYPSE OF THE DEAD).  But pre-teen, middle school-attending kids?  Hell yeah!  As the kids soon figure out, the […]

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  3. […] Eric Brown is a writer I discovered about half way through 2011 and after reading some of his books I wondered how I got along before I read him!!  Yes, I read the first BIGFOOT WAR and just like part 2 it’s a super fast-paced read, super-crazy-insanely gory, and has a full list of characters who pretty much all die in horrible ways.  Oh who am I kidding … they definitely die in horrible ways!!  So why did BIGFOOT WARS 2 make the list and the first one didn’t?  One word … ZOMBIES!!  That’s all I’m gonna say about this one.  Read it; soak it in; sleep with the lights on. 1.  APOCALYPSE OF THE DEAD (2010; Joe McKinney; my review) […]

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