There are a few different fundamental ways to tell a zombie story, and one of my favorites is “the siege”, wherein the characters are trapped somewhere, with the zombies outside trying to get in.
I like this setup for a number of reasons. First, it tends to bring internal conflicts to the forefront; a good group will work together toward a common goal, a bad one will fight each other to their own destruction (as in Night of the Living Dead). In a siege story, the zombies tend to slowly build up outside, while survivors tend to slowly get picked off. As the story goes on, you can actually see the odds tipping further and further away from anyone making it through. I’m also a big fan of people building improvised barricades and coming up with ways to dispatch or redirect the zombies from the relative safety of their shelter. Dead Stop hits a lot of these high notes for me.
Set in rural Texas, two buddies hit up the local truck stop for dinner, where one – Deke – plans to finally ask out his dream girl Stacey. He’s successful, and sets up a double date with his buddy, Harley, and another waitress, Marisa. Also at the diner are a local veterinarian with a tragic past, a young couple from the city, and a handful of other patrons and employees. It’s a fine night and things are going well for our heroes, but things go downhill in a big way.
An enormous murder of crows shows up, creepily flocking around the truck stop. They are only the vanguard, however, as soon enough a small army of zombies show up. They pick off a variety of cannon fodder characters, mostly outside the restaurant, before anyone inside has a clue as to what is going on. When Stacey goes outside to find a lazy coworker, she runs into a mob of the walking dead, and things get crazy.
It’s a typical enough setup, but the writer (D. Nathan Hilliard) does a few interesting things in Dead Stop. First, and most importantly to me, he makes all his characters intelligent. Sure, they panic, and occasionally make a stupid decision, but they’re all reasonably intelligent people who actually talk and try to work out solutions to the problems at hand. It’s a refreshing change of pace from most horror stories, which tend to be populated entirely with idiots.
Hilliard also makes his zombies a little different than what we’re used to, and not just in a silly cosmetic way to show how creative he is. Dead Stop‘s zombies work differently than the ones we’re used to, and part of the fun of the book is following along as the characters slowly piece things together. I’m not going to ruin anything here, but I thought this was very effective, especially since most non-standard zombies come off as poorly thought out.
Dead Stop is also paced extremely well. We take time at the beginning to actually get to know the characters a bit, as the action slowly builds up in the margins. When the shit hits the fan, we’re invested in these people, and actually want them to come through this against all odds.
If you’re looking for a solid, well paced zombie story, check outDead Stop.