Dead America: A Zombie Novel
Trade Paper, 214 pages, $13.95
Review by Sheila Merritt
Zombies have made a major comeback in recent horror fiction. While attractive vampires garner the ardor of the romance crowd, hardcore horror buffs can’t seem to get enough of the unrefined earthiness of zombies. In Dead America, author Luke Keioskie plays upon this fascinating trend. He imagines a society where death is quickly followed by resurrection. Over the course of twenty years, America has more or less adapted to this phenomena. There is bigotry between the living and the newly dead, but generally, life or unlife goes on. That is, until a young woman is found dead and doesn’t come back. Her corpse shakes up the status quo. It’s up to Jon Faraday, a living private detective, to sort out what has happened and why.
“New Yorkers have gotten secure in their afterlife; nowadays they live as if they know they have years after they die, and they do. No matter what happens in your life, death doesn’t hold any mysteries anymore.” This complacency becomes altered when the permanently dead girl’s body raises questions. The city’s undead denizens are not cannibalistic cravers of brain meat; they are merely reanimated versions of their prior selves. They retain the signs of injury or the natural causes that precipitated their demise. Odor emanates from their changing bodies, but embalmers and perfume work to mask it.
In the course of his investigation, PI Faraday will interview the living and the newly dead; treading into the tenuous truce between the two. He encounters “Life Supremacists” who wear black sheets and call the undead “neccers.” Like any hardboiled detective worthy of his legacy, he drolly observes his environment. When, for example, Faraday regards some zombie kids he reflects: “Must suck being dead and still having to go to school. Would really make you wonder at the point of algebra.”
Tensions mount as changes in what was perceived as normal occur. The city becomes unhinged. “People are losing their minds. It took them two decades to get used to the idea that life goes on when you die, and now the dead don’t always come back. That scares a lot of people.”
Luke Keioskie’s necro noir novel is a satiric look at a culture challenged. There is a nice flavor for the requisites of the private eye story, and some of the dialogue is extremely amusing. When the detective is interrogating a disembodied head, for example, he gets a silent reaction to a question. After a pause, he realizes that the head was trying to nod in the affirmative but forgot it couldn’t. Verbal yes or no answers are then requested. The humor is of the gallows variety; black and bleak.
Dead America is yet another zombie novel in an overcrowded market. It is wise in its societal perceptions, and knowledgeable about the conventions of hardboiled fiction. At one point the detective states: “Just what the world needs — another depressed zombie.” A book that pokes fun at itself for being part of a pop culture mania deserves a smile and a wry embrace.
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