Description (from amazon.com):
A lone figure stumbles in from the dark, telling tales of terror and destruction… warning of the beginning of the end. The living have been twisted beyond recognition, into foul, demented creatures of fury and depravity. The dead are rising to join them. And the last diner at the end of the world is almost out of coffee…
Written by Axel Howerton
For those of you that read my reviews a lot, you’ll know that zombies have a special, rotted place in my heart. I am a big fan of the genre. And if you read my stuff, you’ll also know that I love me a zombie story as long as it has some originality to it, which I admit is pretty hard to do these days. There are literally thousands upon thousands of zombie movies, zombie shows, zombie books, zombie comics, and zombie stories… so it’s tough to be original. Usually there’s some sort of cataclysmic event – disease, nuclear devastation, bio-terrorism, wrath of God, etc. – or there is the always fun “we have no clue what’s going on but there are people eating people!” trope, then you have the survivors fighting off the infected/undead/whatever. That’s your basic zombie premise, and it’s tough to really come up with a way to get zombies into a story that is not something that has been done a dozen times before.
Howerton’s LIVING DEAD AT ZIEGFREIDT & ROY actually surprised me, and that says a lot. The story starts with its protagonist, a seventy-plus year old cowboy (surprise #1… when’s the last time you had a zombie story fronted by a senior citizen?), sitting down and requesting a cup of coffee at the diner, all the while packing heat and being covered in blood, “‘And whose blood are you wearing all over your shirt?’ ‘Well it ain’t nothin’ nefarious on my part, but that’s a story you’re gonna wanna hear. Pour me a goddamn cup of coffee and I’ll tell it,’ the old man grumbled, taking off his hat and gently setting it down to cover the pistol.” Sirens rush by outside as the Old Cowboy tells the tale of what’s going on: while watching a magic show with some white tigers included (hence the very familiar sounding names in the title of this story), an Indian man in a Nehru suit entered. He levitates himself on stage, has a small rant about how white tigers are sacred, and then speaks some magic words. First – bad enough – the tigers go on a rampage, and then – even worse – the dead start getting up and attacking the living! So surprise #2: the zombies are from some sort of Hindu magic… never seen that one before!
The story goes on, first with the Old Cowboy finishing his tale, and then with the subjects of said tale making their entrance to the diner. From here on in it’s pretty standard zombie fare, but well told with humor and horror. Howerton has a way with words, both with snappy dialogue – “‘You’re in Vegas, Pops. Were you looking for card tricks and top hats? Let’s hear about the blood and the ambulances.’” – and with descriptive prose – “The arms and hands and hungry teeth came crashing through the window, pulling him under a tide of ruined humanity that ripped and shredded his flesh.” – and it is this skill that really pushes LDaZ&R along. Once you get past the beginning it really is much like most other zombie tales, but Howerton’s skill as a writer makes it interesting, and not just your average “Oh, no, there’s zombies. Let’s not get bit. Aaa. Run.” type of story. The fact that Howerton can easily switch from a humorous moment one line to a horrible one the next also keeps the reader sucked in, and his knowledge to pared down the humor and up the horror as the story progresses keeps the reader there once they’ve been sucked in.
Overall I really enjoyed LDaZ&R. It is a fun novella, a quick yet satisfying read that offers some new spins in the zombie canon. LDaZ&R does not completely re-invent the zombie genre, but it does have enough originality to stand out from the very deep hoard of other entries into the genre. Definitely recommended to any fans of the zombie genre, fans of horror fiction, or anyone just looking for a fun little read that doesn’t mind wading through some gore (‘cause it’s got some).
Overall 8 / 10
Axel’s site: http://axelhowerton.com/