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Fall of Night by Jonathan Maberry
Cover Artist: Shutterstock
Review by Drew Bittner
St. Martin's Griffin Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 9781250034946
Date: 02 September 2014 List Price $15.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Website / Show Official Info /

Reporter Billy Trout and police officer Desdemona "Dez" Fox have problems. The most immediate one is the swarm of living dead surrounding the school where the population of Stebbins County, PA, is under siege. Another is the small army of soldiers positioned around the school. Are they friend or foe?

But hanging over their head is the biggest question of all: if the Army can't contain this outbreak, how long before the White House goes nuclear?

This is the situation in Fall of Night, sequel to Dead of Night by Jonathan Maberry. Tense and even nerve-wracking in places, this narrative flits like a hummingbird from the school to Billy's friend/tech support Goat, who managed to get Billy's first video report out to the world (and prevent the Army from firing on hundreds of children), to the White House and its increasingly desperate decisions.

A scientist named Herman Volker wanted revenge. He wanted murderers to suffer the torment of the damned, so he tweaked a Soviet bioweapon--one designed to reanimate dead bodies--and made it a more perfect instrument. The virus/parasite combination he created would reanimate corpses, but it also kept a tiny part of the victim's mind alive...enough that they could witness, helplessly, what their bodies were doing when driven by the virus. It was used once, on a psychotic named Homer Gibbon.

Which is where everything fell apart. Rather than being interred immediately, his body was claimed by a relative--and he woke up hungry. He spread the illness throughout Stebbins County and then set out to preach his twisted gospel far and wide.

Fox and Trout know the school is not a long-term solution. There isn't enough food and water, and though the walls are strong, there are too many doors and windows to secure. Add in people on the verge of a breakdown and disaster is imminent--and when it strikes, it sows even greater terror among the handful of survivors.

When the soldiers pull out in a rush and a huge explosion can be seen on the horizon, even through the pounding rain of Superstorm Zelda, Fox and Trout realize how badly things have gone...and they're going to get worse.

The quarantine zone is porous, allowing a special ops team to infiltrate (they're on the trail of vital intel that could end the plague) and also allowing a handful of the dead to escape. The White House dwells on the political fallout of what looks like a serious but containable disaster, only to see that dithering has a devastating cost. The president and his advisors are hectored by Scott Blair, a national security advisor who pushes what sound like extreme solutions--and seize desperately upon a possible way to crack the plague.

But with Volker dead and the necessary intel in the unwitting hands of a fiend, there are no good answers and time is running out fast.

Maberry creates a fast-paced descent into hell, as a small outbreak rapidly spreads beyond the military's ability to contain it. From the local level to the national, as communications break down and the outbreak outpaces anyone's ability to comprehend (much less control) it, the situation goes to hell dramatically.

Maberry also manages a terrific writing feat, as this is not only a sequel but also a prequel to his Rot & Ruin series (which is being made into a cable TV series). The world of Benny Imura is one where the zombie apocalypse is nearly twenty years past; heroes and villains have risen up in that terrible, desolate world...and here we see where a few of them came from. It's a nice bit of worldbuilding that works great even as a stand-alone story.

Billy Trout is a reporter whose fall from grace landed him back in Stebbins, a backwater on the West Virginia border. His one-time love Dez is the last of the Stebbins PD, her best friend and mentor JT having given his life heroically against the zombie hordes. Both are traumatized in their own ways, both seek to do penance or achieve redemption--often in bloody fashion--but they are the ones everyone else counts on, so they cannot afford a psychotic break. Even as last minute help arrives in unlikely fashion, they are cut off from the world (due to an electronic firewall created by the Army, blocking transmission and phones in or out of Stebbins) and can only proceed based on what they can see. Maberry does a very effective job at showing the cyber-claustrophobia of being blocked from the wider world. It's a trope of horror fiction that carries well into this story.

Homer and Goat have an improbable road trip together, as Goat learns about the gospel of the red mouth and black eye from its prophet. Putting together a travelogue of sorts, he broadcasts Gibbon's ramblings...and its effects will be unforeseen but dire indeed.

Finally, the tug of war between doing what's right and doing what's politically viable feels dead-on (no pun intended). Solutions turn on what will make the administration look good, what will contain the damage, how can it all be spun--even as Blair realizes that they are fiddling while Rome burns. There is no guarantee, no promise that it can be contained, even as their first, best solution turns back upon them with hideous results.

Maberry has created a striking, powerhouse zombie apocalypse in this book, one that will linger with the reader long after its final image--an abandoned car whose radio echoes the doom of the world, with nobody left to hear--is read and considered. Try not to read it before turning out the lights.

Recommended.

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