When you focus your reading in a particular genre, you tend to notice how quickly one book begins to look like another. Similar plots, similar characters, similar structure – if you’ve read a book about X (insert your favorite horror trope here) you’ve read them all, right?
Don’t blame the writers. When a publisher says, “I want a book like X (insert popular title here) but different. Except don’t make it too different,” the writer doesn’t really have much choice but to give them just that if they want to keep putting food on the table.
The one benefit of this similar-but-different approach is that it makes the truly unique books stand out and that’s exactly what I have for you today; two books which take a very common theme and turn it on its ear in a unique fashion, making them stand out from the rest of the pack.
THE RETURN MAN
The outbreak tore the U.S. in two. The east remains a safe haven. The west has become a ravaged wilderness. They call it the Evacuated States. It is here that Henry Marco makes his living. Hired by grieving relatives, he tracks down the dead and delivers peace.
Now Homeland Security wants Marco for a mission unlike any other. He must return to California, where the apocalypse began. Where a secret is hidden. And where his own tragic past waits to punish him again.
But in the wastelands of America, you never know who – or what – is watching you.
When we first meet Henry Marco, he is deep in the Evacuated States, doing his best to track down his client’s dead husband who, as a result of the zombie plague, has gotten up and started walking around again. The idea of a man staying behind to provide emotional resolution to those who survived the outbreak but have loved ones who did not is both unique and interesting, but it is when we discover just why Marco refused to be evacuated himself that the plot really begins to draw you in.
Things become more difficult for Marco when the government gets in on the action, effectively blackmailing him to carry out a mission on their behalf or else see members of his extended family face imprisonment, or possibly worse, back in the safe zone. Marco takes the gig, setting off a classic “behind-the-lines” kind of rescue mission, complete with rival competitors trying to hone in on the action.
THE RETURN MAN is a fast-paced zombie thriller with enough originality and action to satisfy even the most jaded zombie fan.
THE PANAMA LAUGH
Ex-mercenary, pirate, and gun-runner Dante Bogart knows he’s screwed the pooch after he hands one of his shady employers a biological weapon that made the dead rise from their graves, laugh like hyenas, and feast upon the living. Dante tried to blow the whistle via a tell-all video that went viral – but that was before the black ops boys deep-sixed him at a secret interrogation site on the Panama-Colombia border. When Dante wakes up in the jungle with the five intervening years missing from his memory, he knows he’s got to do something about the laughing sickness that has caused a world-wide slaughter. The resulting journey leads him across the nightmare that was the Panama Canal, around Cape Horn in a hijacked nuclear warship, to San Francisco’s mission district, where a crew of survivalist hackers have holed up in the pseudo-Moorish-castle turned porn-studio known as The Armory. This mixed band of anti-social rejects has taken Dante’s whistle blowing video as an underground gospel, leading the fight against the laughing corpses and the corporate stooges who’ve tried to profit from the slaughter. Can Dante find redemption and save civilization?
A zombie plague that turns its victims into shambling, flesh-hungry creatures that can’t stop laughing? How extraordinarily creepy is that? Roche takes this terrific idea and delivers an action-packed storyline to go with it, making this one of the better zombie books I’ve read in years.
THE PANAMA LAUGH alternates between the present, where Dante Bogart is desperately trying to put an end to the entire epidemic, and the past, revealing the events that lead up to the release of the biological toxin that kicked off the epidemic in the first place. The first person viewpoint puts the non-stop zombie destruction that fills the pages of THE PANAMA LAUGH on center stage and generates an immediacy to the story that makes it hard to put down; once you start, you want to read it all in one sitting.
THE PANAMA LAUGH was a highly impressive debut novel and I can’t wait to see what Roche brings us in the future.
Joseph Nassise is the author of more than twenty novels, including the internationally bestselling Templar Chronicles series, the Great Undead War series, and the Jeremiah Hunt trilogy. He is a former president of the Horror Writers Association, the world’s largest organization of professional horror writers, and a multiple Bram Stoker Award and International Horror Guild Award nominee.
You can find him online at Shades of Reality.