Dead Sea
Brian Keene

Leisure Paperback, 337 pgs, 2007, $7.99
Reviewed by Steve Vernon

Let me make a confession up front. I am a big time Brian Keene fan. He doesn’t always hit the mark but he gets close enough to the bullseye for the target ranges I frequent.

Dead Sea is no exception. It starts out fast and picks up speed. Lamar Reed, a gay black man, finds himself playing Moses to a pack of zombie holocaust survivors. They take sanctuary upon an old Coast Guard ship but the sanctuary is dubious at best.

Dead Sea is Keene’s attempt to reinvent his own personal take on the zombie mythos, as previously and masterfully demonstrated in Keene’s landmark The Rising and his follow-up City Of The Dead. He succeeds in this attempt, sort of. We are given a more traditional Romero-like zombie, however the zombie contagion is not limited to the human species. Again, as in The Rising, we have zombie lions and tigers and bears – oh my.

Now I don’t have anything against zombified animals. In fact I’m kind of fond of zombified buffalo. However, I would have liked to see Keene steer a little closer to the Romero mythos. Not that I’m a traditionalist, you understand, but I felt that Keene was playing it a little too safe by falling back on zombie critters. I would have liked to have seen him work strictly within the Romero universe as opposed to his own magnificent world building. Dead Sea felt a little like a squinting rewrite of The Rising. Indeed, we are shown scenes that might indeed have been lifted from The Rising – for example, Frankie’s escape from the zoo. When questioned on his message board about this mirror-scene Keene explained that he figures there are many versions of this world going on all at the same.

There are other worlds than this, gunfighter.

Well, maybe so, but I still felt a little cheated by Keene’s self-echo.

Nevertheless, I had a blast reading Dead Sea. Taken as a stand-alone novel the book rocked, galloping along with a pace that reminded me of a summer apocalyptic blockbuster such as Independence Day. I definitely had a blast reading this book and I’d recommend it whole heartedly. Pick up and read it. It’s fun, its freaky and you are definitely going to enjoy yourself.

Mr. Hands
Gary Braunbeck

Leisure Paperback, 354 pgs, 2007, $6.99
Reviewed by Steve Vernon

The second August release from Leisure is Gary Braunbeck’s Mr. Hands. This is an absolutely dark and nasty tale of the birth of a monster and I have never read any monster-building story as coldly logical as this one.

Mr. Hands is a novel of loss and revenge and redemption. It is a novel on the nature of evil and darkness. It’s a novel that scared the hell out of me.

Now I’m not easily scared but there were scenes in here that reached down into my belly and gave my lower left intestine a hand-sized squeeze. Braunbeck’s style, usually moody and less than obvious has never been so darkly displayed. Mr. Hands is set in the Braunbeck Cedar Hills universe, framed by a pair of old school tale-tellers, but this novel is anything but old school.

As I said before I believe that Keene’s novel Dead Sea simply cries out to be made into a summer blockbuster movie. I wouldn’t wish that fate on Mr. Hands. Hollywood would mess this one up. By the end of this chilling story you’re going to believe in Mr. Hands.

The book includes a bonus novella – The Kiss of the Mudman, a tale that also takes place in the Cedar Hills universe. Taken together the stories feel a little repetitive and I didn’t feel the same impact from Mudman as I did from Mr. Hands. Much of Mudman circles around an encyclopaedic knowledge of music. I’m not a music buff so much of the charm of this novella was lost upon me.

Still, The Kiss of the Mudman did win the International Horror Guild’s award for best novella of 2005, so a lot of folks were definitely impressed by this yarn.

I’d recommend this book for folks who enjoy being poked around a little by a novel. Mr. Hands definitely isn’t light reading. I enjoyed the hell out of this book and I am certain it is going to stir up some further professional notice for Mr. Braunbeck. Can anyone say Stoker?

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