Well, although I had slightly mixed feelings about Jonathan Maberry’s “Patient Zero“, I took a look online after I’d finished reading it and I happened to notice that he’d written other zombie novels too.
So, since a second-hand copy of Maberry’s 2011 novel “Dead Of Night” was going cheap, I thought that it might be worth taking a look at.
So, let’s take a look at “Dead Of Night”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS. In fact, the blurb on the back of the book also contains a major backstory SPOILER too.
The novel begins in the rural American town of Stebbins, Pennsylvania with a mortician called Hartnup dying from a zombie-related injury. A body has risen from the slab and bitten him, and now he is also turning into a zombie too….
Some time later, a tough-as-nails police officer called Desdemona Fox gets a call from her partner JT telling her that there has been a call from the local new age funeral home. When they get there, they are greeted by a grisly scene of death and destruction. Of course, it isn’t long before one of the bodies turns out to be not quite as dead as Desdemona had thought…
One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it’s a really brilliant zombie novel 🙂 Not only is this novel a fairly intense horror story, but it’s also very gripping and it has a lot of personality (which Maberry’s “Patient Zero” lacked slightly). Whilst some parts of this novel are fairly clichéd, this is a gloriously compelling late-night grindhouse B-movie of a novel 🙂
I should probably start by talking about the novel’s horror elements. Although this novel isn’t outright scary, it’s suspenseful, intense, disturbing, bleak/depressing and shocking at times.
In addition to lots of ultra-gruesome splatterpunk elements (including the classic technique of introducing… short-lived… background characters), the novel also includes many wonderfully creepy/disturbing moments of psychological horror, character-based horror, bleak horror, governmental horror, societal horror, claustrophobic horror, moral horror, death horror, body horror and cruel horror.
The novel’s stand-out moments of horror include things like chapters focusing on how one of the zombies sees the world, a chilling monologue delivered by a serial killer, some creepy descriptions of the US foster care system, scenes where characters recognise people who have been zombified etc.. Seriously, this is more than just a zombie novel. It’s a horror novel too.
The zombie elements of the story are kind of interesting. Whilst there’s a fairly inventive reason behind the zombie apocalypse (which the novel’s blurb spoils!), this novel is clearly aimed at people who are new to the zombie genre. For starters, it’s set in a fictional world where the only zombie movies any of the characters have heard of are old films from the 1930s-50s.
As such, fans of the zombie genre might find a few scenes to be somewhat patronising – such as how it takes the main characters a surprisingly long time to finally come to the obvious realisation that they have to aim for the head when fighting zombies.
Even so, all of this stuff lends the novel a slightly “traditional” kind of atmosphere and, given the novel’s dedication to George A. Romero, this seems to have been a deliberate creative decision. After all, when “Night Of The Living Dead” was first released, the zombie genre was still a fairly new thing and this modern novel tries to recapture this moment in the genre’s history.
This novel is also something of a suspenseful thriller novel too, and in a lot of ways, it’s almost a little bit like an American version of Shaun Hutson’s “Erebus” – which is never a bad thing 🙂 In addition to the claustrophobic small town setting, the main characters are also constantly in danger from multiple sources (eg: zombies, a hurricane, the government etc..) throughout the story. Plus, the novel also makes subtle use of other thriller novel techniques – such as shorter chapters, multiple plot threads, mini-cliffhangers etc… too.
In terms of the characters, they’re surprisingly good. Although most of the characters initially appear to be cheesy, two-dimensional stock characters (eg: the tough-as-nails heroine, the by-the-book cop, the intrepid reporter, the mad scientist, the evil serial killer etc…), they quickly gain a lot of extra detail and psychological depth as the story progresses. Seriously, this is the kind of novel that will even make you care about what happens to one of the zombies.
In terms of the writing, this novel is brilliant 🙂 Unlike the generic thriller novel narration in Maberry’s “Patient Zero”, this novel actually has personality and a distinctive narrative voice 🙂
The third-person narration in this novel is often a wonderfully playful mixture of formal, atmospheric descriptions and the kind of irreverent, informal narration that feels like the text equivalent of a Quentin Tarantino or Robert Rodriguez movie 🙂 Seriously, the writing has a level of personality which I haven’t really seen since I read Jack O’Connell’s “Box Nine“, Jodi Taylor’s “A Trail Through Time” or Weston Ochse’s “Empire Of Salt“.
In terms of length and pacing, this novel is reasonably good. At 357 pages in length, it never quite feels bloated. Likewise, this story remains fairly gripping throughout – with the story constantly moving forward at a reasonable pace – which is slow enough to be suspenseful, but fast enough to make you want to read more. Plus, the pacing is slightly closer to that of a horror novel than an action-thriller novel too 🙂
All in all, this novel is a really great zombie novel. Yes, it’s a little bit cheesy or clichéd at times, but this is a gripping, well-written zombie novel that is also a good horror story too. It’s a late-night grindhouse movie of a novel, it’s a modern splatterpunk novel, it’s a perfect introduction for people who are new to the zombie genre, it’s a suspenseful thriller and it has personality.
If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would just about get a five.