Book Review: Brian Keene's "Dead Sea"

Trouble begins when a virus infecting the rat population of New York City begins spreading among animals and humans alikeā€”one bite, one drop of blood or one string of saliva is all it takes to kill its victims, within minutes, and instantly revive them as mindless, flesh-eating zombies. Narrating this grim tale is gay 30-something Lamar Reed, who makes a hair-raising trip through the carnage of zombified Baltimore before he and a small group of survivors manage to commandeer a Coast Guard ship and get it out to sea. Together, the eclectic group search the coast for a safe harbor; meanwhile, an endless parade of zombies search the survivors' floating haven for a way in. Keene piles on the gory thrills as Lamar and his shipmates struggle through this diseased world

Zombie novels have come into prominence as of late, and author Brian Keene has been at the forefront of the rebirth since 2004. With his novels "The Rising" and "City of the Dead", he brought to life a zombie apocalypse with a twist. In "Dead Sea" he has revisited his familiar territory of undead and decay, all while giving the genre a whole new approach.

All too many times we've seen authors find a formula that works and stubbornly stick to it, repeatedly, ad-nauseum. With Keene, the fact that he has decided to dive into the world again with a different approach on the zombie infection is a welcome change. When one finds an author they like, it's always most enjoyable when they continue to force themselves to grow and develop as opposed to simply churning out more of the same.

"Dead Sea" at the base is your standard snapshot of survival, focusing in on a small cluster of characters fighting to stay alive. For the basics, this is essentially a by the numbers zombie outbreak; infected rats, cities falling to the wayside and bleak outlooks for your main characters. Thrown into the mix are some new looks at cross species contamination and the results therein. Also mixing things up is the setting of a small Coast Guard Cutter and the stresses of living in such confines, such as the despair of making your resources stretch to last, or how you will be able to replenish said resources.

If you've been a fan of Brian Keene and taken time to peruse his website, he talks from time to time on the business end of writing and where he sees himself in the overall lineup of writers. You have your A-Grade writers out to make literary strides and your B-Grade writers out to just make a living on writing. Keene sees himself in this B-Grade level and I can't disagree with him.

Nothing about his books are going to strike you as literary masterpieces but the simple fact is, the man tells a damn good story. When it comes to fiction, that is the factor that counts. Focusing on character development that restrains itself from becoming too detailed, he gives you just enough to sink your teeth into so that you can identify with your cast of characters and feel some good old fashioned empathy with them. As Lamar, Mitch and the kids fight their way through a burning Baltimore, you'll find yourself on the edge of your seat waiting to see what happens. You can't bear the thought of them being hurt or lost and you'll keep turning the pages to see what happens. We've seen the end of the world focus on characters before, in "Dead Sea", it is done highly effectively. Throughout the whole cast, you will find something in each of them to draw you in.

"Dead Sea" does break some new ground in the zombie genre, though I'll save those tidbits for you so as not to spoil them. Having an engaging plot and characters to connect with, it's a hard book to put down and makes for a quick and enjoyable read. Keene also has a penchant for disgusting and gory imagery which is essential to a zombie apocalypse. If you're a gore hound such as myself, you'll enjoy Keene's ability to describe the more gruesome aspects of the story.

A good read for anybody who enjoys a bit of horror fiction, "Dead Sea" will make you think twice the next time you decide to go for a swim in the ocean!

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