Title: Dead of Night
Author: Jonathan Maberry
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
A prison doctor injects a condemned serial killer with a formula designed to keep his consciousness awake while his body rots in the grave. But all drugs have unforeseen side effects. Before he can be buried, the killer wakes up. Hungry. Infected. Contagious. This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang… but with a bite.
I’ve been a fan of Jonathon Maberry ever since reading Patient Zero, his breakout zombie novel. A lot of novels that make it to the bestsellers list often don’t deserve the accolades they receive. This was not the case with Patient Zero. Maberry did a masterful job in melding the zombie, suspense, and biomedical thriller genres. It was one of the most entertaining zombie novels I’ve read.
Now I can add Dead of Night to that list.
Desdemonda (Dez) Fox and JT Hammond, two officers with the Stebbins County, Pennsylvania police force, respond to a possible break-in at Hartnup’s Transition Estate (i.e. funeral home). Arriving at the scene, they find the place a bloody shambles and discover the ravaged corpses of Dr. Hartnup and Olga, the Russian cleaning lady. As they wait for back-up, Olga comes back to life and viciously attacks Dez, forcing Dez to take down the cleaning lady with three shots to the head from her Magnum. When back-up finally does arrive, the two officers are unable to explain why such excessive force was necessary against a civilian or how they lost the body of Dr. Hartnup (who had also come back to life during Olga’s attack and shuffled off into the countryside). The chief sends them away to write a report that makes sense while he and the rest of the Stebbins County police force begin searching the woods for the missing doctor. For Dez and JT, it is a fortunate turn of events because they avoid becoming human fodder for the zombie outbreak.
However, with most of their comrades now amongst the horde of living dead, Dez and JT must single-handedly stop the apocalypse from engulfing their town before federal authorities sterilize the county to contain the spread of the infection.
Where Dead of Night truly stands out among other zombie apocalypse novels is in the subplot detailing how the outbreak started. [Spoiler alert] Billy Trout, a local reporter for Regional Satellite News (and Dez’ former lover), gets wind that Homer Gibbons, a notoriously vicious serial killer who was just executed that morning by lethal injection, had a distant relative in Stebbins County. Sensing a sensationalist story that might make him an overnight success, Billy contacts Henry Volcker, the prison physician who oversaw the execution. Volcker relates how he wanted Gibbons to truly suffer for his crimes, so along with the lethal injection he included a formula that would revive Gibbons several hours after his death as a sentient zombie, allowing him to be fully aware of his surroundings as he slowly rotted away inside his coffin. Gibbons was supposed to be buried immediately after his execution since he supposedly had no next of kin, which meant no one other than Volcker and Gibbons would ever have been the wiser. However, Gibbob;s Aunt Selma came forward at the last minute to claim Gibbon’s body and give it a proper funeral, which meant the corpse was unexpectedly sent to Hartnup’s Transition Estate. It was while on the mortician’s table that Gibbons came back to life and became patient zero of the zombie outbreak. [End spoiler alert]
Dead of Night reminded me of George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead on meth. The novel takes place in the course of one night, which keeps the action fast-paced. Once the first zombie rises from the dead, the intensity does not let up until the final page of the novel. My only criticism with the story is that the final confrontation with the living dead is somewhat anti-climatic as compared to the proceeding three hundred pages, with Maberry instead going for an emotional punch to the gut. However, it’s a minor criticism and in no way detracts from the overall quality of the story.
As with Patient Zero, Maberry provides us with multi-dimensional characters that draw in the reader and gives them an emotional stake in their fates. From Dez, whose crumbling life forces her to confront her own personal demons and the bad choices she has made throughout her life as she battles the zombie outbreak, to Billy who puts aside his selfish motivations to try and save his town. From Gibbons, who revels in his new-found ability to generate carnage, to Dr, Volcker who must deal the realization that his misguided attempt to achieve justice created a villain more heinous than ever and inadvertently ruined more lives than Gibbons ever could have on his own.
Dead of Night is a fantastic zombie novel and a must-read for anyone who loves the genre. I give this book four and a half out of five rotting zombie heads.