Brian Keene's 'Dead Sea': A Review
Here's the latest in Keene's zombie horror novels.
Keene returns to the traditional zombie formula with 'Dead Sea'. While I liked how he progressed the zombie perception in 'The Rising', Keene easily proves that the original lore of the undead can be just as terrifying. Lumbering, stupid creatures with feeding on their one track mind became thinking, plotting, purpose driven beings. Infection is more communicable in 'Dead Sea' which not only adds to the terror but builds layers upon layers to the despair and panic that Keene loves to put his readers through. Regardless, it's hard to deny that Keene is one hell of a story teller.
"Hamelin's Revenge" is what Lamar Reed called it. The epidemic that started with rats and soon spread through small house pets and then eventually onto human beings. Lamar sits home watching events unfold and disease progression on the news, until it reaches his front door. The disease turns the living into lumps of decomposing flesh that exist only to satisfy their endless hunger. Transferring from host to prey from either being bitten or contact with infected body fluids, you could consider it as an undead HIV of sorts. Day after day of constant fear and hiding are beginning to drive Lamar into depression. 'Why do I continue to fight? What is the point of staying alive?' he wonders to himself darkly. Considering stepping onto the street and offering the undead a free lunch, an unexplained fire begins to ravage the city. As flames engulf the city, the few hiding survivors are slowly smoked out of their holes and flee for their lives. Deciding his odds are better with the diseased, Lamar also takes to the streets for refuge. All around, most of the living are easily taken by the undead. Running until the end, Lamar finds himself trapped by a group of hungry presuers until a young brother sister duo comes to his rescue. Greatful for the aide, Lamar takes the two under his wing and vows to protect them at all costs. Figuring their best move is to continue fleeing, they make a break for the pier thinking the vast seas will provide sanctuary. Fortunately, there are other living humans who had the same idea and welcome Lamar with open arms. As the ship launches, everyone breathes a sigh of relief as the infected shrink along with the horizon. Sea life is hard, but bearable. The crew learns to work together and eventually build a little community of their own. However, when a supply run on the mainland goes horribly wrong, Lamar finds himself fighting for his life all over again.
Keene is clearly the master of zombie novels. As popular as zombie stories are, I'll never get tired of Keene's undead mayhem. The way the character's emotions crawl inside your head leaving you filled with their anger, fear and despair is nothing but astounding. As much as I wanted the underdog to win, I knew that a grim ending awaited Lamar. The one thing that gave the whole story away for me is when Keene did a bit of name dropping from 'The Rising' and 'City of the Dead'. While I smiled a little bit at the mention, I had to roll my eyes at the revealed ending.
Exciting and fast paced, I shredded the novel from front to back in a savage zombie style in three days. Incredibly absorbing with life like characters and well mapped emotions. The intesnity isn't necessarily as strong as in his previous novels but still a good read none the less. Keene has the skills to suck the hope out of you little by little and you won't even realize it until it's too late. All writers like me should aspire to reach Keene's mastery of story telling and character design.
The foreshadowing is really the only bad thing I came across. The ending left me a little hungry. I at least wanted to know that becomes of Lamar. Does he continue fighting? Does he give up and commit suicide or surrender himself to the plague? I just didn't get that feeling of conclusion.
These types of stories always make me wonder about the end of the world. What will it be like? Will some horrible virus such as Hamelin's Revenge destroy the world's population? If so, how long could I survive under the same situations that Lamar finds himself in? Despite the ending, the non stop action and intrigue help 'Dead Sea' come in with a very hope filled four stars.