The Living Dead is as long as death itself. The tome is 650 pages long and you feel every one of them. Paper cuts and eye strain and all. The read is also entertaining and fun and possesses the feel of an intricate TV show with its weaving plot threads and deep character dives. Even though The Living Dead presents nothing more than mere standard zombie fare, this is definitively George Romero’s last word on the zombie lore he helped propagate and is worthy of that honor alone.
Romero’s Alpha and Omega tale comprehensively chronicles the zombie plague from start to ever-loving finish. Along for the ride is author Daniel Kraus, a self-stylized Romero fiend on his own who was handed the keys to the kingdom, along with around two hundred pages drafted by the king himself. Those pages dive full force into day one and does not come up for breath until the plague dies out twelve years later. Half reboot of what has gone on before, half re-imagining of the genre itself, this novel might have worked out better as two separate volumes, yet Kraus fully plays in and presents Romero’s world in way that maybe the entire narrative needed that single breath.
Kraus starts at Day One, with the first recorded reanimation occurring in San Diego. Charlie Rutkowski, an assistant with the city morgue, encounters the ghoul, who happens to be a body she and her partner are attending. Surprise! Instances quick arise country-wide: Washington DC, St Louis, Atlanta, even within the decks of a US Navy aircraft carrier.
No one is safe and as slow as the ghouls move, they work fast. Death, after all, is prevalent.
Similar to Romero’s movies, as well as the pop-culture tales of The Walking Dead, the outbreak quickly descends into chaos until rules are established; time honored rules that are by now known to all. Kraus uses this time to build his characters – historian Etta Hoffman, high schooler Greer Morgan, newsman Chuck Corso, Naval officer Karl Nishimura – but outside of the gory devouring time, these lapses pace at a zombie crawl. As does much of the novel.
Kraus no doubt takes huge delight at working within Romero’s universe. In setting his own mark, he looks to flesh out the traditional fare bringing substance to the style. This is all well and good. Kraus relates a deep, thought out, and entertaining story. Sometimes, though? Sometimes you want wonton zombie destruction. The Living Dead only whets that appetite.
Ghoulish greetings to NetGalley and Macmillan/Tor Books for The Living Dead advance experience.