Book Review: Quarantined (2009)

He did it again.  Joe McKinney, author of QUARANTINED, once again managed to write yet another novel with great characters, a fast-paced plot, and this time 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 McKinney novels were two of the best zombie books I’ve read in a really long time.  DEAD CITY (2006) tells the story of a zombie outbreak in San Antonio, told from the perspective of San Antonio police officer Eddie Hudson.  CITY is a gory novel filled with great characters and tons of zombie violence.  McKinney then turns around, opens up the scope and fills his APOCALYPSE (2010) novel with tons more characters, many more locations across the U.S., and even more zombie violence.  In between these two novels McKinney wrote QUARANTINED; it may not have zombies in it but it’s as every bit compelling and captivating as his other novels.

Judging by the title “QUARANTINED” I was expecting this to be another zombie novel written between DEAD CITY and APOCALYPSE OF THE DEAD which detailed when the quarantine wall was built around the city of San Antonio and the other gulf states.  I was very wrong about this.  QUARANTINED is a stand alone novel about a vicious flu outbreak, H2N2, that originates in San Antonio.  The novel begins a few months after the initial breakout which, McKinney tells us, is claiming about 25,000 victims a month.  As a result the federal government constructed a wall around San Antonio to make sure the virus doesn’t get out of this Texas town and spread across the country.

The story focuses on Lily Harris, a homicide detective, and her partner Reginald “Chunk” Dempsey.  It starts with the two at the Scar, a massive burial ground for victims of H2N2.  On a routine patrol of the Scar Lily observes something odd; it seems there’s a body being dumped in the mass grave that appears to not have been killed by the virus.  On a closer look Lily notices a bullet hole in the victim’s chest.  This sets off an investigation in which the victim is identified as Dr. Emma Bradley, a research doctor working with the World Health Organization trying to develop a cure.  As Lily and Chunk investigate deeper they realize they’re involved in a deep conspiracy that involves the highest government officials and the scientists working on finding a cure for  the H2N2 virus.

QUARANTINED is a crime procedural set against the backdrop of a viral outbreak that threatens to spread worldwide.  Lily is caught in a difficult situation  On the one hand she takes being a detective and her vow to serve the public very serious.  But she’s also the mother of a five year old daughter Connie, and the wife of a loving husband Billy and she knows none of them are safe within the city’s walls.  Everyone in the city has to wear surgical masks everywhere and at all times, and during their investigation Lily and Chunk have to wear full body, biohazard containment suits.  The threat of death is everywhere and paranoia is the daily special.  Someone innocently clearing their throat will result in the people around them taking many steps back and eyeing them suspiciously.  Between the constant threat of death and the inhibiting containment suits McKinney develops a very claustrophobic atmosphere even though people are “free” to walk anywhere in the city.

Author Joe McKinney in London

McKinney also gives such authors like F. Paul Wilson and Michael Crichton, doctors who write medical thrillers, a run for their money.  McKinney gives us some very detailed information about the virus and it all seems like a virus that could easily appear in the world at any time.  We get a very detailed epidemiological break down of where the virus came from, how it became so deadly, and what might happen in the future with the virus.  The H2N2 virus has been around since 1968 and has survived all that time in the colons of the common Mexican grackle, a bird that every November migrates to San Antonio and “[blankets] the city in bird shit so white and plentiful that you might’ve actually believed it was snow.”  McKinney gives us a really detailed description of how the H2N2 virus made the jump from the grackle’s colon to human beings.  It’s a chilling chapter and it really does seem like something that could occur in real life.

We also get a great overview of the destroyed city as Lily and Chunk conduct their investigation.  We see how this virus ravaged a once bustling city and reduced its’ citizens stuck behind the quarantine wall to an almost animalistic state.  We get very close to a Hobbesian State of Nature here and it’s frightening.  Intercut between scenes of the fallen city, we get to see Lily’s home life with her little girl and husband as they attempt to live a “normal” life behind face masks and the threat of dwindling supplies.  Hell; maybe this is a zombie novel!!  We even get a great chapter where we join the Harris’ as they throw a birthday party for Connie.  Really great stuff and McKinney organizes his book to give us the maximum impact of just how far reaching the virus goes.  And I can’t not point out that McKinney attempts something that some more seasoned, veteran writers would never attempt:  He makes his main character a woman.  McKinney takes on the challenge of telling an entire story from a female perspective, and he does a damn good job at it.  I never once felt I was getting a female character coming from a male writer.  Excellent job!!

There’s not much more I want to give about the plot; you need to experience it for yourself as the detectives unfold the mystery.  Plus McKinney gives us an amazingly tense ending that had me chewing my fingernails down to the first knuckle!!  This is a fantastic crime thriller.  It’s no secret that I really love Joe McKinney’s writing.  He’s such a refreshing voice and an expert at boiling down a story to its essential components.  QUARANTINED is only 206 pages and I was amazed with how much he gave us in those 206 pages.  Definitely check out QUARANTINED and all of McKinney’s books; I can’t recommend them enough and I can’t wait for his next one.

My Summary:

Author:  Joe McKinney

Plot:  4.5 out of 5 stars

Zombie Mayhem:  0 out of 5 brains

Reviewed by Scott Shoyer

3 Responses to “Book Review: Quarantined (2009)”
  1. joemckinney says:

    Thanks for the great review!


Check out what others are saying...
  1. […] and very scary.  Here are some excerpts from my review of QUARANTINED (see my complete review here): Judging by the title “QUARANTINED” I was expecting this to be another zombie novel written […]


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