Mike Lane came to LA to be an actor but the zombie apocalypse got in the way. After a decade of walking dead, things are calming down. There are a few stragglers to take care of. However Los Angeles, as with the rest of the world, has returned to a slightly fragile form of normalcy. Mike, now working on the Los Angeles Reclamation Crew, is responsible for finding the straggling zombies and “reclaiming them,” putting them at rest. But the last few are pretty rotted and dried up. The dust from their bodies seem to be affecting those who breathe it in and it just happens to be the season for Los Angeles’ notorious Santa Ana winds. This new dust problem is especially affecting Mike’s crew except for Mike himself who is left to wonder what is happening and is desperate to find out if there is anything he can do about it.
This is the beginning of John Palisano’s refreshingly different zombie novel Dust of the Dead. With the glut of undead books and movies out there with mindless brain-eaters, Palisano gives us something a little different. The author‘s creatures aren’t interested in brains and are not exactly mindless. They appear more disoriented and angry at first but, as the dust unsettles, they seem to be developing a speed and strength not inherent in the first zombies. The author goes over the first zombie apocalypse rather quickly giving us the background through Mike Lane’s eyes. Mike is the center of this story and his first person narrative is dead on, letting us experience the carnage, sense the inevitable societal breakdown and know what we need to know in a nicely revealing and steady pace. The first zombie invasion, as Mike describes it, is treated rather casually. It is described as more of a major inconvenience. This is a good decision as it moves the tension and our expectations directly to what is to come. Without giving any spoilers, I will just say that zombie dust becomes a whole different matter and makes the protagonists a little nostalgic for the day of zap, bash and kill.
Even with all the surprises in store, the book mainly works because it is seen through the eyes of Mike Lane. Mike is pretty average. He is doing a job, has a girlfriend who he likes more than he lets on and develops a bond with his fellow colleagues. Mike has adapted to some hard times yet is seeing his world fall apart due to something that was previously unimaginable to him. It is that viewpoint that makes Dust of the Dead so interesting and worthwhile. It is brash, involving and full of thrills and scares but we also feel for our narrator and share his emotions as the world and his friends changes.
Mostly set in the San Fernando Valley, Palisano has a great sense of locale, taking us on a little tour of the Valley in Zombieland. The novel has a good regional feel and is especially entertaining for someone who loves Los Angeles yet enjoys reading it being destroyed, such as your fellow native Valley Dude reviewer. Novels with a good regional setting, even if you are not familiar with the locale, are always interesting when the area takes on its own character and meaning. Mike is a Valley Guy and feels like it. I appreciated that in the tale.
But even if you don’t “feel” the environment, there is no getting around the fact that Dust of the Dead brings something new to the long-suffering and more than slightly-worn zombie legacy. It is good to see something new in this sub-genre. There is room for a sequel as the ending is intentionally open-ended. This is one of those rare times I would welcome a sequel.