The great Stanley Kubrick once stated that when it comes to art and originality, everything has already been done and our job is to do it a little bit better. Sadly, few are those who understand this principle, and this usually separates the average writers from the excellent ones. Take zombie stories for instance: the zombie world is one of the most popular branches of horror, but also one of the most overpopulated. This usually makes me a little reluctant to embark on a new zombie experience, even though it’s one of my favorite genres. Let me tell you that I’m really glad that I’ve overcome my reluctance and downloaded “Deadlocked”.
A.R Wise is a writer who seems to share Kubrick’s sentiment. In fact, in his author’s note at the end of his book-Deadlocked, he explains clearly that he decided to launch a new zombie series because he wanted to challenge himself with the task of finding a new angle for a zombie apocalypse. Right from the kickoff, you begin to suspect that he was successful. The stakes are terribly high right from page one as David, the protagonist, is locked inside an office with his dumbfounded colleagues around him and a hysteric wife, Laura, on the phone. With a single promise, he draws a map that will accompany the reader throughout the book: yes he’ll survive; yes he’ll make it home alive in time to embrace her and their two daughters and get them the hell out of the city. He says bye and the nightmare commences thereafter.
This book erupts in nonstop action ala War of the Worlds, but much, much more intense. What I really loved about this book is that the author didn’t envelope his characters in the usual impregnable cocoon that turns them into a walking miracle. On the contrary, he makes it very, very clear that no one is safe here. Not even children. What is surprising here is not that the protagonist is taken through a very bumpy ride (that happens in every story) but that he gets his own fair share of bloody beatings in the process: there is no room for the usual near misses of narration here. No one is a hero; no one is calculative, cool or has any semblance of a plan. Everyone is scared to his bones and vulnerable as any other minor character whose death fills the pages with that adorable red that all horror fans love. Be prepared to be thrilled from start to finish.
The best aspect here is the character development. David has a very personal story to tell, and this is not just about basic zombie dodging, but it’s a story of family and how to deal with illness (more specifically cancer). There is a parallel here to behold: that between zombies and their maniacal taste for flesh, and cancer… and its own maniacal taste for flesh. The author is extremely skilled in creating the perfect balance between nonstop action and those mandatory life-pondering passages which elevate an average movie or book into a work of art. Such deep passages are not cumbersome, on the contrary, they elevate the stakes and make you want to grab a shotgun and delve into the scene to lend a helping hand.
Because the author keeps everything very simple, there are actually little if any negative points here. Of course, this is a series, so the author is excused of leaving loose ends, promising that they will be tied in the next book. Even though there are certain genre-clichés that come with the territory (and that every zombie fan expects) there is not a single scene which is overblown, or a single moment which does not add an important dimension to the story. The author here proves that simplicity, when handled well, is the best literary device.
Without hesitation, I am going to give Deadlocked five stars, mainly because I really loved the characters and the nonstop action does make it an unputdownable book. When I find myself reading every bit of the author’s note, googling up the author’s name and instantly buying the next book in the series, then I know that I have truly uncovered a gem. Indie writers, please, read and take notes.