The Living Dead by George A. Romero & Daniel Kraus

July 30, 2020

A pair of medical examiners find themselves battling a dead man who won’t stay dead.

It spreads quickly.

In a Midwestern trailer park, an African American teenage girl and a Muslim immigrant battle newly-risen friends and family. On a US aircraft carrier, living sailors hide from dead ones while a fanatic makes a new religion out of death. At a cable news station, a surviving anchor keeps broadcasting while his undead colleagues try to devour him. In DC, an autistic federal employee charts the outbreak, preserving data for a future that may never come.

Everywhere, people are targeted by both the living and the dead.

We think we know how this story ends.

We. Are. Wrong. 

George Romero is the grand-daddy of them all when it comes to the zombie genre. His masterwork, Night of the Living Dead, is quite rightly considered a classic. You look at anything zombie-related that has come since, and you’ll see a referential nod or two in George’s direction. Over the last decade, zombies have entered the mainstream in a big way. Movies like Zombieland, The Girl With All The Gifts and Train to Busan have been hugely popular. The televisual juggernaut that is The Walking Dead continues to rumble on, expanding into its own shared universe. Back in the nineteen sixties, Romero used his zombies to dissect a turbulent time in American history, highlighting the racial prejudices that others were happy to ignore. Over fifty years later, and the undead are still very much part of our collective consciousness. There is still something about the threat of the dead rising from the grave that plugs directly into the 21st century subconscious. When I first heard that a novel based on Romero’s unfinished manuscript was being released, I was immediately intrigued. The Living Dead by Daniel Kraus is a modern take on the zombie mythos and deftly explores the world of the living versus the world of the dead.

Each thread of the narrative views the collapse of society from different viewpoints. The chapters detailing the spread of the undead on an aircraft carrier are particularly effective. Setting events in an enclosed space in the middle of the ocean adds an additional sense of claustrophobia to an already claustrophobic subject. Watching the rigid command structure of the vessel descend into chaos is riveting stuff.

Elsewhere, Greer Morgan and her escape from the trailer park of hell is another highlight.

I really enjoyed when the various character’s stories crossed-over with one another. The Living Dead has quite the ensemble cast. I was a fan of Charlie Rutkowski, the junior medical examiner, who is right at ground zero when the end of the world begins. The plot of the novel covers multiple time periods and the evolution of her character throughout was all kinds of awesome. There is another character called Etta whose view of the pandemic is more unique than most. She has autism spectrum disorder and much prefers her own company. The prospect of less people and less distractions means Etta is able to focus all her energy in continuing an important task that forms the backbone of the entire novel.

For the gore-hounds amongst you, rest assured, there is plenty of bloody ickyness to enjoy. This is a zombie novel after all. It wouldn’t be the same if people weren’t getting ripped apart and munched on would it?

My only minor gripe is the same one I often mention when it comes to apocalyptic fiction – almost all of the novel is set in North America. I’m slightly disappointed that we don’t learn more about the zombie outbreak elsewhere in the world, it is a ‘global’ pandemic after all. That said, my adoptive hometown of Nottingham, here in the sunny old United Kingdom, does get a mention which was nice.

As an added bonus, at the end of the novel there are some insightful author’s notes detailing Kraus’ role in picking up where Romero left off. It is clear that this project became a real labour of love for both the men involved. The passion for the subject matter is evident on every page.

You may have noticed we’re in the midst of a global pandemic. Ok, it might not be zombie related but there is no denying it is frightening. Some folks are going to disagree, but I think now is the ideal time to read zombie fiction. When I read apocalyptic novels there is that one thing I’m always on the lookout for, that glimmer of hope. The tiniest suggestion that things could get better is hugely reassuring. Surrounded by death and destruction on a scale we would find difficult to comprehend it is a single point of light in the dark. I find it oddly life affirming, perhaps I’m less of a pessimist than I thought after all. The characters in novels like The Living Dead refuse to give up, they will literally fight till their last breath. I’d like to think if I found myself in a similar situation, I’d be able to do the same.

I know that zombies are always going to be literary marmite for some but for those of you who love the undead* then The Living Dead is well worth checking out. This novel is a vast beast of a thing, according to Goodreads it clocks in at round six hundred and fifty-six pages. It has given the authors the opportunity to really go full blockbuster when it comes to the book’s scope. As a counterpoint to this there are also intimate, personal moments for each character. There is a perfect balance between the two.

The Living Dead is published by Bantam Press and is available from 6th August 2020.

My musical recommendation to accompany The Living Dead is the soundtrack to Dying Light: The Following by Pawel Blaszczak. The album is a mixture of orchestral and ambient electronic tracks with just a dash of John Carpenter’s signature repetitive beats for good measure.  I’m sure you’ll not be surprised when I tell you the score to a zombie first person survival game is an ideal companion to a zombie novel. The music manages to hit all the right emotive notes. Sometimes eerie, often fast paced and chaotic. There are even moments that are delicate/fragile. Trust me, it works.

*no, not that way. Euuwwww

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