Zombie Book Review: Undead Kelly

Based on the true story of the Australian outlaw Ned Kelly, Undead Kelly takes this divisive historical figure and complicates the matter further by adding a zombie conspiracy to the mix. For those of you unfamiliar with Ned Kelly, he is regarded as both a folk hero in the mold of Robin Hood, and a dangerous outlaw for his drawn out war with the local police force. A war that ended in chaotic battle in which Kelly donned homemade plate armor in a showdown that he ultimately lost. Kelly was tried and hanged for his crimes.

In Undead Kelly, the titular character’s story is framed through a narrator, who is taking down Kelly’s story as part of his legal defense team. It’s a pretty interesting frame for the story, as it puts all of the famous outlaw’s deeds in the past, with our narrator slowly discovering the truth of things. This is further complicated by trust issues. Our narrator is one of the least trustworthy characters in the book, and that’s saying a lot. In fact, we never even learn the man’s name.

That’s right, throughout the course of the book, the man gives various different names to different acquaintances, and is frequently caught in his lies. We never learn his real identity, and only get a few flashes of his past. He’s the black sheep of an upper-class English family, sent to Australia by his father to preserve the family name. There are hints that he did something truly awful, but these are never addressed directly. Reading Undead Kelly, I thought we would find out that the character was Jack the Ripper by the end, but it turns out Jack did all his ripping a few years after the Ned Kelly trial.

So we can never really trust our conniving narrator, and there’s also reasons to doubt Kelly’s account of things, at least at first. You see, the zombies – called “blighters” in Undead Kelly are a sort of urban legend. Many people have heard of them, but very few actually believe they exist, and those that do are often looked down upon. This sets up a nice conflict for the first half of the book, as our narrator has to figure out whether Kelly is being truthful, or simply trying to excuse his lawbreaking by saying he was defending himself and other from the undead.

However, as our narrator here’s more of the story, it becomes quite obvious that Kelly is being truthful, and that the blighters are real. In fact, the blighters were originally a weapon used by several colonists against the aboriginal people as a way of claiming their land without outright hostility. Unfortunately, they were never completely in control of the zombies. I really enjoyed this part of the story because it adds an additional layer of class warfare to the story, something that permeates the real tale of Ned Kelly.

All in all, it’s a very interesting and engaging piece of historical fiction, although I do have a few misgivings about the book. While I enjoyed the framing device the author used, I feel like our narrator never quite clicked. Throughout the book we kept getting hints about his sordid past, but nothing concrete ever came of it. There was also a brief love story between the narrator and Kelly’s sister that I didn’t think worked terribly well, especially with the way it ended.

That said, Undead Kelly is a very interesting story, and I really loved the ending. It also got me interested in the real history behind the fiction, which is always a great selling point for historical fiction.

Grade: 4 zombies heads out of 5


Tim Bowden

Hi Bricks of the Dead
Thanks for taking the time to review my novel. Glad you liked it.
And yes, Kelly’s story is fascinating – it was fun working out how to bring zombies into the different incidents.
All criticisms cheerfully accepted!


My pleasure, Tim!

So, what was the deal with the narrator? Is that a historical person we should know?

Tim Bowden

Hi Dave
No, he was fictitious. In my mind, he was a distant relative to the royal family, who impregnated someone closer to the royals – but I accept that I didn’t develop this enough.
My main aim – as you picked up on – was to create an unreliable narrator. An early idea was that you could never be sure if the zombies were real or not, but that changed to RM doubting their existence instead.
Someone else also thought of Jack the Ripper, and that would have been brilliant, except the timeframe was wrong.
And I wanted the narrator to be quite cowardly, and have to find his courage as the tale unfolded, so that his last decision was more devestating…

Anyway, thanks again – currently working on next book… Historical zombies again, but this time in the ancient world…


I really enjoyed the unreliable narrator; midway through the book I really thought the twist was going to be that the blighters were not real.

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