THE LIVING DEAD by George A. Romero and Daniel Kraus (2020 Tor Books / 656 pp / hardcover, eBook, audiobook)
While I was thrilled to learn a while back the late great George Romero was going to have a novel released (with help from co-author Daniel Kraus), this reader had more than OD’d on zombie novels sometime around 2010-2012. For those not in the know, zombie novels began to saturate the genre around 2004, particularly in the small press, and there were some of us who had been reading them as far back as 1979, when authors like Hugh B. Cave were still writing books dealing with old school, voodoo-spawned zombies. But, being a life long Romero fan, I knew I had to read this, and was confident the man who made zombies famous would surely deliver something new. While the novel has its moments, I regret to say fans won’t find much here they haven’t read before.
THE LIVING DEAD is a complete reboot (if you will) set in modern day and taking us to the very first confirmed case of a body coming back to life. This grim opening section will have zombie fans thrilled, then the authors spend much time setting up a few different scenarios in a trailer park, at a cable news station, and aboard an aircraft carrier, where eventually the book’s most exciting scene takes place. I say eventually, as there is much set up and at times large sections become a chore to get through. Like an epic fantasy novel, there are plenty of characters here, at times making things tough to follow, but they do come together nicely toward the middle and a couple are quite memorable.
Like most of Romero’s work, there’s plenty of social, political, and religious commentary, and a religious cult that grows aboard the aforementioned aircraft carrier kept my interest wherever they appeared. In light of our current political climate, much will hit home with readers, and fans will delight seeing nods to most of Romero’s DEAD films (and there’s even a brief tip to KNIGHTRIDERS). Whether Romero or Kraus wrote these parts is anyone’s guess, but the prose seems uniform enough that anyone will have a hard time figuring out who wrote what. Gorehounds take note: this one doesn’t skimp on the sauce. There’s plenty of lurid descriptions, some that should make even seasoned splatter vets wince.
There are scenes from the zombies’ point of view, although they don’t reach the depth Phil Nutman managed to pull off in his grossly underrated 1993 novel WET WORK, and while THE LIVING DEAD features animals becoming part of the undead, they’re not used here as much (or as fun) as Brian Keene did in his 2003 novel THE RISING and its sequels.
I'm glad a dream project of Romero’s has finally seen the light of day, and it’s great to see his novel was completed by a super fan like Kraus (who also has an impressive list of novels to his credit). Kraus’ lengthy post-novel author’s note is well worth sticking around for, too. But THE LIVIND DEAD will feel a bit too familiar to fans of zombie fiction, hence making much of this lengthy read a bit of a slog. I’m assuming Romero film fans who aren’t familiar with zombie fiction may find this a bit more entertaining.