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The Infected / Michael McBride

thinfected-s.jpgDelirium Books / January 2008
Reviewed by: JG Faherty

The Infected is a rollicking, thrill-packed, adventure ride of a novel that provides more non-stop action than possibly any book I’ve ever read. By the time you finish it you feel as if you’ve taken a hit of speed. The excitement kicks in on page one and never lets up. At some points it was so relentless I had to stop reading and catch my breath. This book should come with a warning: ‘Persons with heart conditions or pacemakers should not read this book.’

Michael McBride is a self-confessed caffeine junkie, and The Infected reads as if he’s somehow managed to infuse the pages with his favorite stimulant so that it enters your bloodstream through your fingers. The story moves along at such a breakneck speed there are times you’ll feel your heart racing - not from extreme terror (although there are plenty of scares and creepy scenes), but from the adrenaline rush you get. The chapters carom along like an out-of-control rollercoaster. Each time you think there will be a break in the action, zoom! you rush forward again. It’s the literary equivalent of Red Bull.

The Infected is an apocalyptic novel that begins with a Mayan priest casting a curse upon the Spanish invaders who are slowly decimating his people. The book then jumps ahead to the present time, as the curse is fulfilled with a plague of zombies. As for the ending...well, I won’t tell you how it ends. That would be cheating. But suffice to say, it doesn’t end the way you think it will.

It also doesn’t begin the way you think it will. While most writers save their plot twist for the final chapter, McBride gives us several, including two or three before we even meet the characters who end up as the protagonists of the book.

The plot is pretty straightforward - we’re talking zombies here, after all. They’re gross, and they eat flesh. But McBride’s zombies are not your average, run-of-the-mill undead. No, these disgusting creatures would run circles around Romero’s shambling dolts. Not that McBride’s zombies are flashing Mensa cards. But they have a healthy dose of animal cunning that makes them particularly dangerous and hard to predict.

Besides offering thrills galore, the book also plays havoc with the reader’s emotions. McBride seems to enjoy letting the reader get to know a character, to feel an attachment, and then he pulls the rug out by visiting a particularly gruesome death upon said character. There were at least two occasions where I leaned back in my chair and practically shouted at the pages because the person I’d thought would end up the hero became a zombie happy meal. Or worse.

For those of you who enjoy gore, never fear. While The Infected is by no means one of those splatter punk, shock value only books, it provides plenty of healthy doses of the red stuff. Zombie feeding fests are lovingly rendered in shades of blood-red, bone-white, and flesh-pink, and McBride calls upon his own background in the health sciences to create zombies who are far more disgusting than the usual gray, drooling monsters of the movies. The zombies in The Infected would make a person dying from gangrene, or Ebola, or terminal zits look pleasant by comparison. You can imagine how awful they would look - and smell - as they charge towards you, teeth bared and ready to rip the flesh from your bones.

To create his monsters, McBride combines equal parts science, Mayan history, and imagination to produce a zombie that you can actually believe in. And the science aspect allows the zombie menace to spread so fast that before the story is over, major cities all over the world are on the verge of collapse, the Army’s back is against the wall of defeat, and utter chaos reigns over everything as our small band of heroes keeps getting smaller at every turn.

Much of the action in The Infected takes place in a hospital setting, or involves characters who happen to be medical professionals. This allows McBride to bring his own background into the story, adding an air of authenticity to these scenes, to the point where you find yourself thinking, ‘what if...’ - a scary thought indeed when reading a work of horror fiction.

McBride uses a deft touch when developing his characters. Just enough description is given to provide each person with a unique personality and look, but the focus always remains on the story. No long, drawn out sections of dialog; no paragraphs devoted to physical descriptions or individual backgrounds. Yet through a minimum of words and interactions, McBride manages to bring the characters to life as real individuals, people you want to cheer for, people you feel sorry for when their throats are torn out or their skulls are cracked open.

The final scenes take place in an underground military shelter deep within the mountains of Colorado, where several questions that plagued me through the final third of the book are finally answered, the scenes written in a grudgingly defiant attitude as the inevitable comes to pass for more than one character. The ending, unlike so many books today, is a definitive conclusion that doesn’t leave the reader hanging, but at the same time it allows for the possibility of sequel.

If any fault can be found with The Infected, it’s that you’ll get so caught up in the action you’ll speed through the pages and finish the book before you realize it. And at today’s hardcover prices, that might upset a few people. But don’t use this as an excuse to not read it - this is the perfect book for reading on the train, at the beach, or just sitting on the deck with a beer.

In fact, if you read The Infected during your lunch break at work, you might find you don’t need that afternoon cup of coffee.

The hardcover limited-edition of this book sold out within 36 hours of being announced. The publisher is now taking names for the waiting list. If you'd like to place your name on the waiting list, please contact Delirium Books.

Posted on Monday, September 17, 2007 at 01:45PM by Registered CommenterDark Scribe Magazine in | Comments Off

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