The Savage Dead by Joe McKinney

The Savage Dead
by Joe McKinney
Published by Pinnacle, October 1, 2013
352 Pages

It starts in a laboratory. A man-made strain of flesh-eating virus. Created by a power-hungry cartel. Capable of turning victims into brain-dead carnivores. Smuggled aboard a cruise ship that's about to set sail . . .

One by one, the passengers are exposed. A U.S. senator. A young couple. An undercover agent. A beautiful assassin. Some will be infected. Others will survive. But no one will be spared if the outbreak isn't contained and the dead outnumber the living.

Enter Delta Force operative Juan Perez. He's fought the deadliest killers in the darkest hellholes on earth. But he's never seen anything like this—an apocalyptic cargo of pure zombie mayhem heading for the coast. If Perez and his SEAL team can't stop it, America, and quickly the entire population of the world, are finished. The plague years will begin..

Senator Sutton makes a bold statement passing a law allowing the government to confiscate the Mexican drug cartels assets by any means necessary, including piracy. As I'm sure you can imagine, this waging of war spawns harsh repercussions. The cartel develops the zombie virus after multiple failed attempts to eliminate the senator. With the aid of Pilar, a gun for hire haunted by her past, the virus is released aboard a cruise ship carrying the senator, her alcoholic husband, chief of staff, Paul along with Tess, a female agent posing as Pauls wife.

It was genius to change up the usual apocalyptic scenery. The first part of the book builds up to the final stand off on the cruise ship. Zombies on boats always heighten my level of fear. Normally you can find a good hiding place and wait long enough for a horde of zombies to pass you by, migrating to places of higher population. On a ship, there's no place for them to go! And on a ship filled with undead, there's nowhere for a survivor to go but in the water...assuming you're lucky enough to make it out of your stateroom.

The title of this book is aptly fitting. These zombies are some of the scariest, most resilient, bastards I've read to date. They just wont die! Even after four shots to the head, they keep coming. McKinney is a marvel at creating gruesome scenes and frightening monsters. The Savage Dead is full of rich, three dimensional characters and satisfying story lines. Filled to the brim with action and terror, it manages to keep me on the edge of my seat and craving more depravity. I love the imagery McKinney creates when describing the dead. In one scene he describes a man's gaping abdomen spilling intestines and carved out like the belly of a canoe. It's these small details that make his work so successful.

Let's talk characters...the standout character surprised me. Rarely do I connect with the antagonist of a book. The complexity of Pilars character was unexpected. As she fights to assassinate the senator, she's also at war with her internal demons. The hard, callous character shows moments of compassion and struggles with some obvious anger management issues. Much of her development is done through flashback. Memories of her attempt to sneak into America as a child, she's left in a truck with a group of immigrants as they die from starvation. She blames herself for not saving her childhood friend Lupe and is haunted by his ghost.

Chief of Staff, Paul is two parts whiner one part hero. He nearly abandons a group of twenty three children to save his own skin. Forced into aiding them, he manages to come off heroic in the end. Is it just me, or when hiding with someone else, does their always seem to be that one idiot that makes noises or cries? Okay, okay, I know I'm being harsh and I should be understanding and all because it's a scared little boy and all. But seriously, I would probably find myself suffocating or slapping that kid.

For my female readers out there, if you've watched Titanic, you'll get a kick out of this one. McKinney writes "It was the most erotic moment of his life." I don't know why but this got me laughing, thinking about geriatric Rose as she tells her captivated audience of her naked portrait experience with Jack.

My only moment of pause comes in the form of language. Agent Juan Perez launches a one man takeover of the cartel. During the scene, there is a lot of Spanish thrown around. Unfortunately, I don't speak a lick of Spanish (unless you count banyo...I can ask for a bathroom. And until recently I actually thought manana meant Monday). Adding the foreign language detracted from what should have been an intense and frightening action scene, but instead left me disjointed from the chapter.

Enjoyable Quote:

"And not for the first time that evening, he felt everything that made him a man melt into a puddle of goo."

I received a signed copy of The Savage Dead from the author, but chose to purchase the audio version. Really good audiobook narration takes great talent, which Michael Kramer clearly has. One of the things I look for in a narrator is the ability to create distinct characters and authentic accents. Michael Kramer has an appealing voice with a wide dramatic range. He does an excellent job of keeping the pace and provides enough emotion to keep you invested in the story.

This is the third novel I've read from Joe McKinney. I'm always nervous to read new works after finishing a five star read. I fear it won't live up to it's predecessors and leave me disappointed. The Savage Dead is currently being group read on Goodreads. They asked that readers not skip ahead, but I just couldn't stop myself. I needed more! The Savage Dead earns another 5-star notch on McKinneys belt from The Bookie Monster

With a little something for everyone, the book appeals to a mass audience. Whether your interests include political thrillers  zombies, horror, or suspense, you'll no doubt enjoy The Savage Dead.

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