Review of Joe McKinney’s “Apocalypse of the Dead”
Apocalypse of the Dead is technically a sequel to Dead City, Joe McKinney’s story about the initial night of outbreak as the dead take over San Antonio and one police officer must fight to survive his night in hell. This novel actually takes place two years after Dead City, and the main character in that book is only briefly mentioned as the author of a novel on how he survived that night. What AotD is all about is the bigger picture-the aftermath of the dead rising up due to a new virus coming into existence after several hurricanes hit the gulf coast of Texas. Much of that coastline is now walled in by the government and the infected, along with those who survived the initial outbreak, are hidden behind those walls. The government’s long term response to the outbreak has been to set up the Coast Guard and a new organization (Homeland Security/Border Patrol) to man the walls and the water, and prevent anyone (living or dead) from escaping. Naturally, it was only a matter of time before some of the desperate scavengers and survivors who have been forced to live inside the wastelands behind the walls found a way to escape, and unfortunately, the boatload of refugees who end up washing ashore in Florida has infection running rampant amongst them. Thus begins the worldwide spread of the virus that had been contained in a vast swath of coastal Texas for two years prior, and so begins this story, which is told from the perspective of a wide assortment of survivors attempting to make their way up north, where sanctuary is promised by the leader of a church who has led his flock to the Grasslands of North Dakota.
This is a stand alone book for all intents and purposes. While I enjoyed Dead City and would recommend it, you don’t have to feel the need to read that first, although it does provide a fine introduction as to what has brought us to this point. Dead City has all the makings of a zombie movie-one night, a police officer trying to survive, and non-stop action along the way. AotD is more of a long term saga, and it does a good job of explaining everything as needed for the reader who doesn’t choose to pick up Dead City. The story follows the path of several different groups and individual survivors and of course, their stories all intersect as things progress. We have survivors all across the south lands: Florida, Mississippi, Texas, and California, all converging as their purposes and desire to find their way through the apocalyptic wasteland converge. There are plenty of characters that I enjoyed getting to know, gradually, as they revealed more and more about themselves and how they cope with the pressures of this impossible situation. There are plenty to like and dislike as I got to know them better, and the background environment-how the military, police, and civilians handle this madness, provides a believable atmosphere for the story. I was fond of more than one of the characters, and I felt that they developed and morphed along the way, often in ways that demonstrated their human vulnerability quite well. Ed, the retired Marshall, and Billy, the young convict he takes under his wing, were two particular favorites of mine. Their bond is a reluctant one at first, but grows with time and lends strength to each character’s development. Of course, there is a sizable volume of characters here, so a few don’t get as much attention as I would have liked to see-some of the female characters in particular didn’t spend as much time in the spotlight as I would have liked: Robin and Kyra in particular were compelling characters with obvious flaws who stood out for me and I would have liked to gotten to know in more detail. I think that is the challenge of creating a cast of this size for a story-you can never delve deep enough into all of them and keep the story moving aggressively forward. The author did just that: he moved this 500 page story forward at every step, keeping me focused on it page after page.
As I always try to do, I attempt to point out where I have concerns with a particular story, and I think here my complaints all revolve around Jasper, the head of The Family, which is the church that has set up a safe haven in North Dakota for his flock. I try to avoid spoilers in my reviews, so this might be a bit vague, but I just felt there were a few things that were “off” about this preacher. One of which is an amazing ability he displays early on in the story that is left unexplained to the reader there, or anywhere else in the story. Suffice it to say, it was startling enough to have me raise an eyebrow, and I really want to understand the “why” behind this remarkable ability. Another aspect of Jasper is more down to earth, and really has more to do with his ability to compel certain people than anything else. While I certainly can understand the power that someone with charisma and a ironclad belief system have in convincing others to join with them, a particular character who displays a strong sense of independence and unlimited conviction throughout the book seems to dismiss all of that and embraces Jasper’s message without question after a very brief discussion with the preacher. It’s as if everything about him before was turned upside down within a few minutes by a few well placed turns of phrase. None of this is outside the realm of possibility, but those two elements and a few other details about Jasper were perhaps the only significant concerns I had about this book.
Overall, this is an excellent read, with a real handle on a practical, functional infection that could cause such mayhem. These people are not dead, they are infected, and that infection progresses with the story. I would be interested to see some of the later stages of infection detailed out more in the next book in this series-the stage 3 zombies sound quite chilling with their possibilities and predatory instincts. AotD has a sense of realism to it (as much as can be expected from a zombie book, naturally) with Mr. McKinney’s knowledge of both police procedure, armed and unarmed combat, and disaster recovery on full display here. I would rate this one up there with many of the most memorable zombie apocalypse tales I have read.
Apocalypse of the Dead can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Apocalypse-Dead-Joe-McKinney/dp/0786023597/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1296420561&sr=1-1