Brian Keene,
Dead Sea
(Dorchester, 2007)

A novel loses some of its zip when you know how it ends before you start reading.

Sure, the characters in Dead Sea were (with the exception of a well-placed cameo or two) entirely new to me. But the circumstances of the story -- the world has been overrun by voracious zombies -- was laid out and resolved (dismally) in the preceding books, Brian Keene's excellent The Rising and its mediocre sequel, City of the Dead.

So, no matter what the protagonists in Dead Sea do, you know the ultimate result of their efforts. (SPOILER: Things end badly for all of humanity. END SPOILER)

With no mystery left for the conclusion, the question is how good the journey is to get there. On that score, author Keene rises above his previous novel.

Dead Sea begins with Lamar Reed holed up in Baltimore as the population of the city is systematically hunted down and slaughtered. Lamar is forced into the open, however, when the city begins to burn. His party grows when he is first rescued by, and then rescues, a pair of young children whose parents have already been killed. They are, in turn, saved by a well-armed Bible salesman.

With nowhere else to turn, they head for Inner Harbor with hopes of stealing a small yacht and finding refuge at sea. Instead, they end up taking shelter on the USS Spratling, a historic Coast Guard cutter on display in the harbor, which is still partly functional and has a makeshift crew of others who have fled the city.

But the open ocean is only a temporary solution, since the cutter has limited supplies and barely enough fuel to make another port.

Well, at least the zombie plague can't infect sea life or birds. Yet. Again, if you've read City of the Dead, you know that won't last.

Still, despite knowing how it all works out, I find myself wrapped up in the story. Despite several long-winded passages on the nature of heroes, Keene's characters and the manner in which they face their peril is solid, soul-stirring material, and you'll want to read every last word to the bitter end.

And, believe me, the ending is bitter. Consider yourself warned.

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review by
Tom Knapp

15 December 2007

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