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Monday, February 23, 2009

Book Review: The Dead

I met Mark Rogers at a fiction convention. Bored and sensing a kindred spirit, I hung around Mark's table, a little lost in the swirl of all the agents, publishers, and hopeful authors like myself.

When I mentioned that I write book reviews, Mark offered me not just one book, but all of them - literally, the entire pile of books he had on his table. I just couldn't do take him up on his offer; as much as I'd love to write reviews for all of his books, the odds of me finishing any of them in a reasonable period of time (say, before I see him again in a year at another convention) were low. So I only picked up a few. Then he asked me the magic question: "Are there are any in particular you're interested in?"

I pointed at The Dead, with its disturbing cover of a wicked-looking dead man. And thus I became acquainted with Mark's style of horror.

Mark is what I like to call a double-threat. Mark's not just an artist; he's an amazing talent reminiscent of Frank Frazetta. After reading The Dead, it's apparent that he's also an exceptional author. It just isn't fair!

When I picked up The Dead, Mark warned me "there are typos." That's not entirely true. I found only one actual misspelling. But something happened during layout, such that every few paragraphs two words run together. Somehow, these kinds of errors offend me far less than misspellings.

I expected a zombie book. In fact, I was intrigued how one writes a zombie-themed novel. After awhile the zombies have to get a little boring, right? What I got instead was something completely different: a good old-fashioned fire-and-brimstone tale of the apocalypse, complete with the dead walking the earth to claim souls for Hell.

The Dead is basically a morality play, detailing the efforts of a few tough characters strong enough to survive. All the familiar apocalyptic elements are here, from nature reclaiming technology to good people suddenly spirited away to Heaven, from preachers touting the end of the world to survivalists loaded with artillery. They're all front and center in The Dead, and Mark gleefully kills them off one by one.

Mark's greatest skill is in his imagery. He has an artist's talent for visualizing the indescribable; his description of the palpable evil that one of the zombies gives off, like "that scene in Indiana Jones where the Nazi pugilist is about to hit the whirling blade" will stick with me for the rest of my life. Mark doesn't just describe events; he actually paints pictures of them in your mind, filling in every color and texture.

The book isn't perfect, however. Some characters (notably the wife of the protagonist) seem undeveloped, while others (Steve) show up out of nowhere. The events of the world are summarized in narration rather than left a mystery, which detracts from some of the horror. For those seeking definitive answers as to which side Rogers comes down on philosophically, he dodges the question: what happens to all those folks who aren't Christian? Good question...

Still, The Dead is a terrifying tale, especially so for Roman Catholics with a healthy dose of Italian guilt. You'll never look at your zombies the same way again.



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