I’m fairly certain that Jonathan Maberry is the king of the zombie novel. I don’t see anybody who currently comes close to his ability to craft believable and logical stories of the walking dead. Stories that, chillingly, could happen in our real life someday.
Full disclosure – I’ve known Jonathan Maberry for a few years now, dating back to the release of his first novel, 2006’s Ghost Road Blues, for which he won the Bram Stoker Award for Best First Novel (if you haven’t read his Pine Deep Trilogy, go get it now – it’s epic on the level of The Stand). Aside from being a nice man and a huge supporter of Biff Bam Pop! since the beginning, he’s also a hell of a writer. Since Ghost Road Blues, he’s been on a significant roll, writing his Joe Ledger novels, a series of non-fiction releases (including Wanted Undead or Alive with Janice Gable Bashman, which I was lucky enough to be quoted in), his Benny Imura young adult zombie series and a host of Marvel Comics. Tomorrow, he releases his first stand alone novel, Dead of Night.
It also happens to be his best yet.
Set in small town called Stebbins County, Dead of Night traces the spread of a manmade disease that turns anybody infected into zombies. In the middle of a brutal storm, two cops, JT and Dez, work to protect the town while reporter Billy Trout uncovers the truth of the zombies, where they came from and what could happen if the virus spreads. In the meantime, the Army is called in, but just whose side are they on?
Dead of Night moves with such immediacy and urgency to it, it’s amazing that Jonathan Maberry packs so much action into just essentially one day. But he does it, and brilliantly. There isn’t a wasted word or moment; every character acts with a purpose and motivation. And while he gives his lead characters strong personalities, he also infuses his victims with just enough backstory to make their demises resonate that much more. A gopher for the local news, the local chief of police, a trailor park manager – the dead in Dead of Night aren’t faceless ghouls – they’re your friends, your neighbours, your family.
Jonathan Maberry may be writing in the horror genre, but in Dead of Night he brings a serious case of realism to the proceedings. Case in point comes when one of the human bad guys, Dr. Volker, explains how he helped create the disease that has turned a small town into a city of the dead. There’s no hoodoo voodoo to it (though there is some vodou) – Maberry utilizes at least the appearance of real science to explain the unreal. This plague doesn’t just happen in Dead of Night. It’s meticulously created, which makes the horror of the story even more frightening. It leaves you feeling like maybe, just maybe, this could really happen.
While there are a few moments of predictability in Dead of Night (the requisite sacrifices being the most obvious), Jonathan Maberry has once again created a novel that exceeds the expectations of the genre. Not only does he have an undeniable gift as a writer, but what amazes me most is that he is getting better all the time. I can’t wait to see what Maberry does next. Until then, Dead of Night is a great read for horror and zombie lovers.
You’ll eat it up.