Flesh Eaters

Joe McKinney
Flesh Eaters Cover

Flesh Eaters


McKinney won the 2011 Bram Stoker Award for this third volume of his Dead Flesh Trilogy. If these three books were conceived as a trilogy they have one of the more interesting chronologies of any trilogy I have run across. Dead City takes place in a single night in San Antonio, Texas. It's the night that the infection that is tearing apart Houston, Texas, first reaches this city slightly further north. Apocalypse of the Dead starts in Houston a couple of years after the initial infection. A band of survivors breaks through the quarantine wall and starts north. Other groups start north from Florida. Mississippi, and the western states. It is more of an adventure store with zombies than the prolonged horror movie of McKinney's first outing.

Flesh Eaters drops back in time to Houston preparing for the hurricanes that will cause the toxic chemical cocktail and environmental chaos that initiates the hemmoraghic virus that produces the zombies. Eleanor Norton, who works for the Houston Police Department's Emergency Operations Command, is with her husband and twelve-year-old daughter preparing for the storm. In one of the best scenes he has yet written, McKinney describes Eleanor's efforts during the storm to cross her street and rescue an elderly neighbor whose home is literally coming apart.

A loud crack to her right snapped her out of the moment and she turned in time to see a large limb from one of Ms. Hester's pecan trees come crashing down onto the corner of her house. It twisted in the wind, sagged, then scraped down the side of the house... But the tree didn't stop moving. Its dense cluster of leaves caught the wind like a sail and pulled down the length of the house, tearing down a section of wall as it tumbled away from the approaching storm...Eleanor climbed over the jagged fragment of kitchen wall...Water was pooling on the living room floor and dripping down the walls...An upside down recliner was against the back wall of the living room...From behind her she heard a loud snap, followed by the sound of walls ripping apart...The house was buckling, the timber inside the walls snapping like bones as the floor shuddered beneath her feet.

This chaotic scene not only sets up the panic and destruction that will continue for the next 400 pages, it also makes a apt counterpoint to the eerie calm of the flooded neighborhood the following morning. One of Eleanor's co-workers comes to her house in a bass boat to carry her to work.

There is a tedious inevitability to zombie stories. Early sightings, disbelief, rapid infection, gut pulling and leg munching, people trapped in attics, churches, hospitals, you name it. Is there a great zombie novel already out there or waiting to be written? I don't know. But with Flesh Eaters McKinney proves himself to be a practitioner who is hitting his stride, creating believable characters whose moral strengths will be tested by this spectacular worst case scenario. There are both predictable and surprising villains in the story, and a little girl who is not just on hand to be put gratuitously at peril. She becomes an interesting person as the story develops. And the ending has enough moral ambiguity about it to leave you with questions to ask yourself, and not just the old standby. "Won't they just get eaten the next time?"