Dead of Night would be like after reading his other zombie-themed novel, Patient Zero, but Maberry surprised me by going beyond your standard action fare by offering a powerhouse of a horror novel.
When two small town cops, Desdemona (Dez) Fox and her partner JT Hammond, respond to a disturbance at the local funeral home they never imagine the world will be changed forever. As horrifying as the blood-spattered scene is, the true nightmare doesn't begin until they realize the dead aren't staying dead.
Dez's ex-boyfriend Billy Trout, a reporter for the local newspaper, is on the trail of a juicy story about Homer Gibbon, a serial killer who just received the lethal injection. While trying to find Gibbon's next of kin Trout begins to piece together a story going all the way back to the Cold War and something known as Project Lucifer.
Herman Volker, a defector from communist Russia, is a scientist with a mad obsession and the creator of Project Lucifer. While continuing his research in secret at a small town prison Volker unwittingly unleashes an unbelievable horror and, as the government tries to stop the plague from spreading, the entire town may have to be sacrificed to keep the whole disaster secret.
There has been a lot of buzz going around about "Dead of Night" and it is definitely well deserved. I am a big fan of zombie themed fiction and willingly read it in all of its incarnations whether it's comedic or something soulful, but the main attraction is always the underlying horror of the story-- something Maberry conveys very well. The narrative builds quickly as the story jumps right into the action and deftly weaves together the varying story lines into a cohesive whole and before you're halfway through you're hooked.
Most of the story follows the two main characters and each represent a part of the discovery process. Dez is on the front line of zombie attacks and she and her partner J.T. witness the early carnage as they try to sort out what is happening. Billy Trout represents the investigative process as his digs into the origins of Project Lucifer and draws out the truth of why it was created in the first place and how it was unleashed. When the story does deviate into other p.o.v.'s it's usually to flesh out the story-- so to speak-- as Maberry takes great care to create a back story that explains the origins of the zombie plague and give it a credible scientific spin.
The characters are interesting and, while I wouldn't call them stereotypes, they are people we've seen before. Dez reminds me a lot of Kara Thrace from BSG: a seriously damaged badass with abandonment issues who chases away anyone who tries to get close. Maberry doesn't shy away from making Dez a character that is hard to like, but she's compelling and definitely someone to root for. Billy Trout is too much of a bad boy to be the Lee Adama to Dez's Kara Thrace, though their relationship does have a lot of baggage, and he has a strong understanding of what makes Dez tick-- and loves her anyway. J.T. fills the role of mentor and friend to Dez who gently tries to nurture Dez's relationship with Billy. Herman Volker is a good villain because he isn't one-dimensional. What he does is wrong, evil even, but he is driven by a tragic past and never intended for Project Lucifer to escape beyond the strictest boundaries.
There are a lot of things that make "Dead of Night" a better-than-average zombie story. It is genuinely suspenseful and the small-town setting really drives home the horror as the characters are routinely confronted with situations in which their friends and neighbors are overtaken by the plague. These zombies aren't the slow, shambling kind either and thanks to the genetic tweaking of Project Lucifer they aren't entirely unaware of their circumstances-- as we learn through the eyes of one of the infected characters. The added uncertainty of the military being sent to keep the situation secret, rather than save the town, also adds another layer of dread as it is a situation that is too easy to imagine; and one that feeds into the basic fear of not being able to trust those who promise to come to our rescue.
There might be a glut of zombie fiction out there but Maberry offers something that stands out in a crowded field. "Dead of Night" isn't some lightweight offering nor is he trying to turn the zombies into some kind of tragic hero (as some authors are now inexplicably trying to do). This is a horror novel-- like zombie fiction should be.
4 1/5 out of 5 stars.