Book Review: Howard Odentz’s Wicked Dead

wicked-dead-final-cover_origIt’s been a few years since Howard Odentz’s novel Dead (a Lot) came out. It turned out to be a nice surprise in a genre that can sometimes be a bit predictable. There are only so many ways you can present the zombie apocalypse, after all, and it’s easy to think just about everything has been done. Of course, the same could be said about stories in general. In the end, what makes them different is the way they draw us into their characters.

Since Dead (a Lot) in 2013, Odentz has been busy, writing and releasing two other horror novels, Bloody, Bloody Apple and Little Killers A to Z. It had been about three years since I’d read Dead (a Lot), so for continuity’s sake, I decided to re-visit it before tackling Wicked Dead. I’m glad I did, because it made me realize how Odentz hasn’t missed a beat. In fact, it’s like he never left.

In a nutshell, the Dead (a Lot) series takes place in a world much like ours except for the roaming hordes of zombies, which are known in the story as Poxers. This name is a reference to Necropoxy, the human-created disease that brings on the apocalypse. Some people are immune to the virus, and, as might be expected, scientists are interested in finding and studying them. The premise is certainly interesting, but what makes the series so readable is Odentz’s masterful character development and brilliant pacing.

Wicked Dead picks up right where Dead (a Lot) left off, and our main character Tripp Light’s narration is just as sharp, witty, and engaging as it ever was. Most of the characters have returned for this one. Tripp and his twin sister Trina are back, as are Tripp’s sort of girlfriend Prianka and her brother Sanjay. Trina’s boyfriend Jimmy is here again as well, and now the twins’ mom and dad are on hand.

There are a few other new players, the most notable being an elderly bus driver named Dorcas Duke. Without revealing too much, I’ll say that Tripp’s scenes with Dorcas are some of the finest in the novel. They’re funny, scary, and touching. Humor and horror are two of the most difficult things a writer can pull off, but Odentz makes it seem like a breeze in Wicked Dead, many times in the same scene.

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At the risk of generalizing, if Dead (a Lot) was a story of searching and staying alive, Wicked Dead is a tale about being on the run and growing up. And yes, it’s still about staying alive. Come on, it’s the zombie apocalypse. Above all, it’s fast-paced, and it keeps the reader flipping pages, probably way past his bedtime. Not that I would know anything about that, mind you.

I’m just over here waiting on the next book.

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