A zombie story that knows what zombie stories should be about.
This story is not about zombies. It's not about blood and guts, it's not even about a devastating set of storms that flood southern Texas and reshape the Gulf of Mexico seaboard. It HAS all those things, but it isn't ABOUT them.
What it is about, first and foremost, is people.
Far too many writers of horror in general, and zombie stories in particular, think that the horror comes from the situation, and so they splash gore and foul language and viscera about with abandon, never understanding that horror only succeeds when it is happening TO someone that the readers care about. Joe McKinney never makes that mistake. In this unflinchingly terrifying book, the zombies are merely one more in a set of terrible obstacles that face both families and villains, heroes and scum. Indeed, even without the zombies this book would have been frightful, because the reader is made to understand what makes the characters tick, and then McKinney slowly puts those characters through purposeful paces. Some of the people unravel, some of them rise above tragedy to blossom into beauty. But the reader CARES about all of them.
This book is also horrifying in its scope. Though rooted in the experiences of certain individuals and groups, it is a truly apocalyptic tale. Like King's THE STAND and McCammon's SWAN SONG, the book is one about an entire world entering a serious and permanent change. It is the kind of book that puts you into its situations so fully that you find your heart racing, your breath coming in shallow gasps as you become an eyewitness to a paradigm shift in culture, in geography, in civilization itself. You can't help but wonder if you would be a survivor in such a scenario... or if you'd even WANT to be one.
Though there is gore enough to satisfy any zombie aficionado, though ribs snap and blood flows, though teeth gnash and chomp on innocent and guilty alike, the visceral thrills are handled carefully - even clinically at times - which only serves to intensify the fright as the reader is forced to participate in imagining what it would be like to live in (and hopefully through) a zombie apocalypse.
As a horror writer myself, it's doubly hard for me to just sink in and enjoy a good scary book, because all too often I am admiring (or irritated by) the author's words, the author's style, the author's particular voice. In this case, I simply forgot myself in a great tale, and spent a few long nights cramming in "just one more chapter."
All in all, this is a wonderful book. McKinney won a Bram Stoker award for Best Novel in 2012 for FLESH EATERS. For my money, it was well deserved.