Permuted Press, 2012
By Andrew C Schlett
Editor, Rivethead Magazine
“…Less than a week ago, she had been working in an insurance office, daydreaming about her Caribbean honeymoon plans with Mark. Now, she was effectively widowed, holed up in a cabin with three strangers, wearing an oversized combat uniform and a butch hairdo, holding a powerful rifle and mentally prepared to blow the fucking head off of anything that tried to harm her. Life had truly changed on a dime.”
Welcome to the world of Cheryl Malone … survivor of nothing less than the apocalyptic destruction of civilization as we know it by flesh-eating zombies. In this just-released novel by author Michelle DePaepe, a new life is breathed into the zombie genre through vivid imagery and DePaepe’s stunningly graphic depictions of the horrors that Malone comes to face as her regular life is destroyed, replaced instead with an unimaginably perilous new one. The author takes us along on Cheryl’s ride as the plague spreads all around her, the days turn into weeks, and the world turns ever nastier as more and more infected await in her path. At no time does DePaepe relent in the telling of this tale or ease up at all on the throttle.
Set in Colorado and, as the story progresses, Arizona, we witness the devastation that the zombies have wrought through Malone’s weary, bloodshot eyes. The author, a longtime resident of Denver, uses her topographical and geographical familiarity of that area to great advantage. She describes street corners in places like Golden, Idaho Springs, or Silverthorne with precise accuracy but paints them as deserted, destroyed, only the Eaters wandering about through the bodies and body parts that litter the pavement. Her attention to detail and her ability to draw pictures with words are DePaepe’s most powerful tools in this far-reaching end-of-the-world scenario, and she spares no gore along the way. The horror of zombie doomsday is made real on these pages through flowing passages of well-composed literature so the entire effort comes across as a smashingly blood-drenched success for this author and for everybody who reads this book.
Besides writing a fascinating zombie novel, DePaepe has accomplished here an almost unnoticed re-definition of the entire genre, if you will. Zombies have typically been portrayed in a very George Romero Night of the Living Dead style, being slow and cumbersome, not very agile or fast, and reasonably easy to elude. DePaepe’s zombies, though, are quick. They are affected, yes, the skin hangs in gray flaps from their bodies, their flesh is rotting away from their bones, they reek of total death, and they do walk or run with a lurch, perhaps with their head hanging limply to one side. But they are fast enough to chase living humans and reflexive enough to put up physical battle or traverse distances in pursuit of prey. At times these zombies almost come across as somewhat athletic. It should also be remarked upon that DePaepe has coined an entirely new name for these creatures. They are always called zombies, or the Walking Dead, but in my entire life of being a horror fan I have never heard them called ‘Eaters’ before. She even goes so far as to offer a very believable 21st century explanation to the origins of this widespread epidemic which turns regular people into flesh-gnawing fiends within days or sometimes even hours or minutes. It’s a by-product of biological manipulation. She explains that in Afghanistan, from where Malone’s fiancé Mark had just returned, they had done genetic engineering on dogs to make them sniff out cancer in patients – makes sense, because cancer is rotten tissue anyway and the first sign of infection is to crave rotten foods – and then somehow the virus jumped species and magnified its effect, essentially killing people and then reanimating them into the living dead with an insatiable hunger for human flesh.
Some of the more traditional well-known zombie lore is upheld in this work. The best way to kill them is still a direct gunshot to the head, and they are like all other zombies in that they are mindless dead things, stripped of any free will or intelligent thought, simply the eating machines they’ve always been, but DePaepe’s twist on the old familiar done-to-death format is a welcome and refreshing change.
DePaepe keeps everything real in this novel. Saying such a thing about zombie fiction is in itself unreal, but once the reader accepts the premise that these creatures exist, DePaepe makes it easy to keep rolling along with the narrative. Only at one point in the story does she stretch believability, that when Aiden, a helpful stranger whom Cheryl has befriended along the way, is pushing his out-of-gas Harley Davidson through the burning midday Arizona desert for miles, but that’s only hard to believe because I know how heavy motorcycles are and I know how hot the desert really is in Arizona. Other than that, there is no time at which readers are likely to roll their eyes in disbelief.
Like any good horror novelist, DePaepe leaves open the possibility of sequel, where her heroine goes from here, since the fates of both the world itself and Cheryl Malone personally remain unresolved at the end of this story. She also never does specifically pinpoint the actual origins of the zombie virus or how it spreads, but these details stand secondary to the non-stop action portrayed in this book and could easily be explained in the next installment, should DePaepe choose to write one. It is this reviewer’s real hope that she does, because in a market flooded with vampires, ghosts, and other supernatural beings, not enough people are writing zombie novels.
Eaters is not Michelle DePaepe’s first effort. She is the author of 2010’s much-acclaimed The Gardener, available from Amazon.com, which is the best damned ghost story I’ve read since I read Ghost Story. She also penned the recently-released Vampire Music and is no doubt hard at work upon some other literary project at this time. You can visit the Permuted Press website at www.permutedpress.com to score your own copy of this soon-to-be classic piece of horror fiction.
Michelle DePaepe can also be found at these other links:
Official Website: http://www.michelledepaepe.com/
BECAUSE THE MUSIC MATTERS!!!