This sprawling horror debut sees a tight-knit band of Florida natives battle tides of flesh-eating savages.
Dr. Russell Thorn at the Gulf Coast Memorial Hospital in Fort Myers, Fla., is called into the emergency room to help with an abundance of flu sufferers. When several of them start vomiting black liquid, he calls the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which suggests a quarantine. The news then reports violence elsewhere in Florida, where people are apparently biting into each other. After chaos erupts at the hospital, the doctor escapes to witness military jets bombing the city. However, this “aggressive containment” can’t stop new victims of Virus X from flying out of Fort Myers’ airport. Soon other states, and Europe, start reporting the arrival of flesh-eating Creepers. In the ensuing panic, regional animosities help unravel civilization quicker than the Creepers alone might have done. Meanwhile, an organized group of people survives in South High School. While patrolling the city in SUVs, they save Thorn’s life and welcome his medical expertise. But they soon realize that the small children and elderly survivors at the school can’t hold out forever. The group decides that Wyoming, with its already low population, could be the safest place in the country. Esposito never uses the word “zombie” but crafts an epic that, at times, rivals hits like Max Brooks’ World War Z (2006). The author’s take on the creatures, for example, is nothing short of glorious: “[A] sick, gurgled scream erupted from his mouth, followed by a stream of black bile.” As he conveys the national scope and consequences of the outbreak, he describes events such as the secession of Texas with compact excellence. He also brings new insights to this familiar tale by portraying his survivors as video gamers; he savvily adds, “In this game, there were no ‘unlimited’ lives, no resets, and no forgiveness.” Frequently, his sharp dialogue gives way to moments of chilling poetry: “[A]n undeniable purpose...pulsed like an electrical stream of frustrated hatred.” Toward the end, however, these descriptive moments stretch into pages, dragging down a tale often filled with incredible twists.
A fine read for horror fans who think they’ve seen everything in a zombie story.