This week I had the feeling. I know you’ve had it, all readers have. When you read a book that is so cool and so everything you love, you are practically vibrating with excitement. Several times I had to consciously stop myself from writing a one line review. “Go get this book now.”
The Pied Piper of the Undead by Michael Whetzel is a book seemingly based on the principal of going back in time and undoing some of the features that have becomes staples in the zombie apocalypse genre in order to give us a fresh start. He leaves out the armies of survivalist psychos. He takes out zombies that are more powerful than humans. He leaves out the drawn out predictable description of the end of the world. He leaves out the religious dogma.
So you are wondering, what’s left? Glad you asked. There is a sense of mystery that drew me in as I was confronted with a world inhabited by only one human survivor, a thirteen year old boy named Peter. He lives on top of a water tower at the edge of his small town, and the horde of the living dead ambles below. As he looked down at them, waiting for him, in some cases signaling for him to climb down the ladder they do not have the motor control to climb, I was reminded of I AM Legend. The undead calling to Robert Neville is my most enduring memory from reading the 1954 classic, and I felt that again. Just like in the classic, we don’t know why Peter is there. We don’t know any of the circumstances, and Micjael shows us instead of telling us boring back story.
The novella also delivers a young protagonist that offers a totally different emotional backdrop than the twenty to forty something plot of fighting for survival in order to reach the haven. Peter is in that puberty time of immortal thinking. He doesn’t fear his circumstances because in his simple, non developed mind he has figured out the system of how to get supplies and how the zombies “work”. His view of the zombie apocalypse allows for different interactions with the undead.
It is pretty standard for characters in these stories to struggle with one of their loved ones becoming a corpse and having to go through the mental anguish of killing them. However, Michael Whetzel goes beyond that struggle with Peter’s interaction and feelings about the dead. And the reason he was able to make this emotional landscape so rich is that he zooms in a small fragment of Romero’s description of mall zombies in Dawn of the Dead. It all wraps up into a nice coming of age zombie story.
I will say that if you like the caravan quests of zombie killers driving around in endless search of bullets, gas, and other supplies you might not be into this story. It’s a small scale character experience that I thoroughly enjoyed. If I had a genie wish, I would have wanted the big ending to slow down just a touch, but that is mainly because I didn’t want the great read to come to an end.
I happily give The Pied Piper of the Undead by Michael Whetzel five rotten severed heads. Because I loved Michaels work so much, here is a link for you to check out all his fiction.
Heads Will Roll,