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The Living Dead


The Living Dead

Night of the Living Dead is one of those movies that nearly everyone has either heard of or seen. To this very day, it influences modern cinema and television. Anyone who has ever produced, written and/or enjoyed a work dealing with zombies, the undead, walkers or reanimators owes a nod of thanks to George A. Romero, who originally conceived, wrote and directed the classic flick with co-creator John A. Russo. For all intents and purposes, it singlehandedly launched the zombie subgenre of horror fiction, including several successor movies spread out over a number of franchises.

Romero felt constrained by the limitations of film and for several years had worked on a novel dealing with the topics raised in the source material and much more. Sadly it was not completed at the time of his death in 2017. Romero’s widow asked author and screenwriter Daniel Kraus --- a lifelong fan of his work --- to finish the book. The result is THE LIVING DEAD, which should satisfy horror fans and aficionados of the movies.

"Regardless of the kinds of books that usually catch your eye, you should set aside a few days to read this expansive, nightmarish work to see how the job of writing an epic novel in any genre is exquisitely done."

The novel, which reboots Romero’s Living Dead franchise, is divided into three acts. Act one, the longest by far, is titled “The Birth of Death” and tells several separate stories moving forward from October 23, 2020, in various claustrophobic settings --- ranging from a government census data gathering and collating office in Washington, D.C., and a trailer park in Missouri to a cable news station, a morgue in San Diego and a battleship in the Pacific Ocean. Ground Zero for the Zombie Apocalypse appears to take place in that morgue, but as the situation devolves, it becomes obvious that the reanimation of the dead isn’t limited to that location. Things quickly deteriorate across the world, though North America is almost exclusively the book’s focus.

There is plenty of blood and viscera to go around. However, Romero and Kraus have produced a very literary work, which is more about the living than the living dead. Even as both teams behave as one might expect them to (though there are many surprises), the authors take the time to stop and smell the roses, as folks do what folks will do, which is to form relationships of all sorts even in the worst of times. But not even the most bloodthirsty reader will be disappointed as long as one does not anticipate an idyllic denouement (or at least what ordinarily passes for one).

The middle act, “The Life of Death,” is the shortest of the three. It serves as a sort of interlude between the first and third acts, focusing almost entirely on that data gathering office in Washington, whose sole occupant rides out the ongoing chaos while writing case histories. The conclusion of this section is quietly chilling, as what Robert Burns described in “To a Louse” as the power that the gift gives us is manifested in the third person.

“The Death of Death,” the final act, is set some 15 years after the events of October 23rd. The majority of the story takes place in a woke dystopian community that checks off all the politically correct boxes, while intermittent flashbacks inform the reader how the various characters found their way to it. One suspects that the idyllic co-existence that is presented inside and outside the community will not last long, and one might be right. The authors demonstrate that bloodletting rampages are not confined to the undead, even as this doorstopper of a book concludes on a poignant yet bittersweet note.

I’m not sure how much interest THE LIVING DEAD will garner outside of the zombie-watching community. It certainly deserves a wider audience due to the authors’ literary style, which almost improbably waxes poetic at times. The occasional forays into the zombie thought processes and explanation of what occurs with mammals other than humans (a subject that a certain long-running television series has never quite answered, at least while I was still keeping up with it) are worth your time and money all by themselves.

Fans of Romero’s work absolutely must read “Stay Scared: A Coauthor’s Note,” in which Kraus explains at great length how THE LIVING DEAD came to be and pays tribute to Romero in fitting and proper fashion.

Regardless of the kinds of books that usually catch your eye, you should set aside a few days to read this expansive, nightmarish work to see how the job of writing an epic novel in any genre is exquisitely done.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on August 14, 2020

The Living Dead
by George A. Romero and Daniel Kraus

  • Publication Date: September 7, 2021
  • Genres: Fiction, Horror
  • Paperback: 656 pages
  • Publisher: Tor Nightfire
  • ISBN-10: 1250305276
  • ISBN-13: 9781250305275