An experimental drug revives the assassinated U.S. president, who’s suddenly hellbent on world domination, in Richardson’s debut thriller.
President Alexander Scott Holden doesn’t survive an assassin’s bullets. But brother and National Security Agency Director Tom Holden needs him alive for at least a few more days to follow through with a plan to solidify America’s economic stability. A small group agrees to the administering of a necrosis treatment in the early stages of development. It works, and the president eventually regains his mental capacity. But something’s wrong, apart from his emaciated, undeadlike appearance. The commander in chief is slowly amassing a horde of the undead, and an unforeseen military assault against Haiti is just the beginning of a plot that might entail taking over the world. Despite the undead villains, the novel has more signs of a political thriller than any other genre. The president’s secret reanimation, for one, smells more like a coverup than dead flesh, while he faces off against radicals, the Free Reign Movement, who are possibly behind the assassination with a mole inside the White House. Richardson, regardless of the playful title, takes the horror element seriously, largely avoiding the Z-word and using scientific descriptions to detail undead symptoms. A doctor discussing Holden’s condition, for example, notes “that even modest doses of any kind of stimulant result in acute physical excitation,” i.e., the president is, at first, a biter. The story, however, doesn’t leave much room for humor or nuanced character relationships. But tabloid journalist Grace Livy is a highlight, sneaking over to Haiti to investigate what seem to be walking corpses and even involved in a (mostly implied) love triangle with reporters Danny Chase and John “Jacko” Ledbetter. Richardson pulls away from genre conventions: the formerly dead president isn’t a mindless animated cadaver, and some of the undead are actually living people who’ve become unwitting participants in the drug trials. In the end, the president’s actions could result in a global war, and though an undead apocalypse could happen, it’s the real-world threat that packs the most punch.
The undead are just another government conspiracy in this solid, politically infused novel.