Raising the Dead

A Keene new take breathes life into a dying genre

By Conor Sanders | Feb - March 2006

"The Rising"

“The Rising” begins in the “too-close-for-comfort” future. Terrorists have been hard at work in New York, committing four more attacks on the Big Apple. The U.S. and China have made a joint mission to Mars.

Oh yeah, and the dead have risen from their graves.

Photograph by Desmond Barca

Jim Thurmond is your average West Virginian working class hero. His ex-wife relocated to New Jersey with her new husband Rick, taking his young son, Danny, with her. Jim is also remarried with a new kid on the way. Basically, it’s your typical American Family.

Enter the undead.

Jim’s been hiding in his Y2K bunker for nearly three months since the global reanimation of the dead has turned the surface into a living graveyard. Jim watched helplessly as his pregnant wife, Carrie, died in his arms. Rising from her grave outside the shelter, Carrie verbally torments Jim day and night begging to be let back in.

Just as he’s about to take his own life, Jim gets a panic-stricken phone call from Danny. The call is cut very short. All Jim knows is his boy needs him, and that’s enough to get motivated. He gathers weapons and supplies for a trek that will take him across five states on a suicide mission to save his son.

Once free of his bunker, Jim finds a world consumed by all the evils of hell. His decaying wife, attached by her umbilical cord to their undead fetus, is waiting to greet him with hungry eyes and slobbering lips.

After dispatching Carrie with a bullet through the brain, Jim begins his long quest to New Jersey. On the road, he learns these zombies aren’t the dumb creatures found in B-horror films, but intelligent, cunning beasts mimicking their human hosts.

These creatures seem to share a common consciousness, in addition to retaining the memories and skills of their host bodies. They talk and communicate. They operate machinery and drive cars. Worst of all, they have a knowledge of weapons and tools.

Undead animals are also running amok. Jim must elude flocks of zombie birds, packs of flesh-eating deer, and of course the occasional blood thirsty dog or cat.

Along the way, Jim teams up with an ass-kicking African American prostitute, Frankie, and a kindly African American preacher, Father Martin. The trio sets out against the odds on a collision course to save Jim’s son, who may or may not already be dead.

To make matters worse, a small faction of the military has gone completely nuts. The troops are led by the sadistic, Colonel Schow, and their atrocities on the remaining human survivors make the zombies look downright friendly.

Our heroes find themselves in the middle of a horrific battle between this rogue military unit and hordes of the hungry undead. It’s a savage fight to the finish between the good, the bad, and the undead in Hellertown, PA.

"City of the Dead"

“The Rising” sequel, “City of the Dead” picks up right where the first book left off. Our remaining heroes find themselves in New York City with a rather nasty infestation of animated corpses.

No where in the city is safe, but “Ramsey Tower” in lower Manhattan. The enormous building, which is considered “indestructible” by real estate magnate, Darren Ramsey, is the last haven of humanity. Hundreds of families live and work within the facility, and our heroes find themselves the newest residents.

Ramsey is a fictional Donald Trump type –only crazy. He’s a megalomaniac with a messianic complex to boot. To put it simply—he’s nuttier than a fruitcake. As if he isn’t enough to deal with, the zombies have found themselves a leader in a mysterious creature known as “Ob.”

Ob has organized legions of the undead to launch a full-scale assault on Ramsey Tower. Armed with enough firepower to start a small war, Ob and his minions prepare to wipeout what’s left of the human race.

Meanwhile, within the tower our remaining heroes have other problems.

The undead siege begins and internal human feuds erupt.

Between Ramsey, who is completely drunk with power –wiling to murder anyone threatening to dethrone him, and his necrophiliac/rapist physician, things go from insane to absolutely-fucking-horrific.

Jim and the gang must try to find a way out of their escalating predicament, but it’s even more dangerous outside than in. So how do you escape when the whole world turns to hell?

These books are without a doubt the best zombie novels ever written. All of the characters are well developed and three dimensional, bringing a sense of realism to the outlandish premise. Both books are poignant, ultra violent, and satirical –making for one hell of a fun read. The prose is extremely clean and fast paced.

George Romero should have read these novels before releasing the atrocious “Land of the Dead,” and maybe he would’ve realized how inane his script really was.

Brian Keene is a masterful writer that could easily be the next Stephen King for a new generation. “The Rising” is so well written it’s hard to believe its Keene’s debut novel. Both books are already in the works for films and videogames, and horror enthusiasts eagerly await Keene’s next project, “The Conqueror Worms, scheduled for release May 2, 2006.

Wanting to prove his versatility, Keene recently published a brilliant psychological thriller entitled, “Terminal,” which is also in the works as a major motion picture. “Terminal” is a great departure from the horror genre, proving Keene is definitely not a one trick pony.

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