Saturday, February 26, 2011

Dead City and Being On the Run in San Antonio: A Book Review

*A review copy of this novel was generously provided by Joe McKinney.

Author: Joe McKinney.

Dead City is Joe McKinney's first novel and this book started at least a four book trend, with Apocalypse of the Dead, Flesheaters, and King Zombie to follow. Published first in 2006, the version reviewed here is a 2010 re-release, with chapters from Apocalypse of the Dead added. Dead City follows Aristotle's three unities: unity of time, unity of place and unity of action. The unity of the material is not in question, but the novel's lack of deeper characterizations, or insights into the central protagonist are. Some fans will enjoy all the simple run-and-gun, in a zombie filled San Antonio; however, this reviewer started to wonder what the greater purpose was, in all the violence.

Eddie is a beat cop, with a young family. He is on duty when the usual bums and low-lifes turn into man-eating vessels. His partner is killed and soon, the novel is introducing and outroducing characters like a quickly moving revolving door. A Spanish speaking gardener is one of the first to get the boot, followed by: a zombie sympathizer named Ken Stoler, Sandy Navarro - a news reporter, Marcus - a fellow cop, and several members of a church group. All of these characters are quickly forgotten amongst the zombie swarms.

Dead City is a fairly cautious first book and that is a good strategic move by McKinney. Many authors make the mistake of over-extending themselves. Yet, McKinney smartly keeps the action over the course of a twenty-four hour period (unity of time), while all the frenetic action is driving central character Eddie towards his family (unity of action). The final unity of place is also followed, as all of the action occurs in the Texas city of San Antonio, or in the outskirts of the city. By following the three unities of drama, McKinney is focusing the material in genre. There is more than just drama here, though.

The infection begins to sweep this city fairly quickly and the details of San Antonio come first-hand, as the author was a former police officer in this locale. The action begins early and McKinney shows his understanding of creating excitement, quickly. This book is never boring or dull, but what of connections between characters, or the novel's deeper underlining purpose?

Eddie is a family man and he is ever struggling onwards to reunite with his wife, April, but his plotline feels like a sidebar. As well, Eddie seems to have few flaws. A few missteps by Eddie would have helped this reviewer identify with this predominant character a little more strongly. One of the few insights into Eddie occurs near the end of the novel: "for me, rushing headlong in to a light was just plain stupid. I only fought when I had to, and then I tried to have a plan about it" (McKinney, P. 228). Even this acknowledgment seems more of a good strategy, than an error in character. There simply was not enough obtuse angles built into Eddie, to allow this reviewer to identify with him.

On a final note, the introduction of the character Tiresias comes too late in the novel, to add any encouraging or tragic prophecies. A Greek character of old, Tiresias is often spouting the tragic foretellings of jealous Gods to tragic heroes. Here, he is an addendum, in a fantasy world full of death. Preachings of deeper connections and building bridges seems to hint at McKinney's upcoming novel, Apocalypse of the Dead. Here, the meditations seem thoughtful, but out of synchronicity with the early parts of the novel. The inclusion of characters from other forms of literature is enjoyable, however.

*as a note, the author has pointed out Tiresias' other role: "as [an] advisor in the land of the dead," within Homer's Odyssey.

A cautious, but unified novel, Dead City is a fast paced zombie story, that puts Eddie, and a few flat characters, up against hundreds of thousands of the infected. Dead City is never dull and McKinney carefully steps into his first novel with a few unavoidable missteps. This novel is given only a tepid recommend and this book reviewer would gently point you towards McKinney's second novel in this series titled Apocalypse of the Dead (Apocalypse of the Dead Review on 28DLA). On its own, Dead City seems to stutter and fall in parts, as if hit with a good headshot.

Overall: 6.5 out of 10.

Joe McKinney's ever increasing zombie book bibliography can be found below:

Joe McKinney's Official Website

A second review of this novel is available at Horrorphilia, by writer Scott Shoyer:

Dead City Review at Horrorphiia

Both of McKinney's latest novels are below (Dead City, Apocalypse of the Dead):

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