Let me begin by saying that writing a novel is a terrific achievement, and one that I have yet to make. My hat is off to anyone who can complete a novel.
Characters: Dr. Victor Frenzel, a handsome young psychiatrist described as looking like Clark Kent is the book’s central character. A specialist in “Zombie Therapy,” he receives patients in his office who were traumatized by having once been flesh-eating zombies. As each patient visits with Dr. Frenzel, we learn the details of their former lives, how they got infected by the bite of a zombie, and how they became zombies themselves. We also get the gruesome details of how they dined on the uninfected — either completely consuming them or turning them into more zombies, before being cured by a government-invented drug.
The patients are a varied lot. The book starts with Angel Fletcher, a scheming businesswoman whose plans to make partner in the firm using her sex appeal are interrupted by being turned into a zombie. The last patient Dr. Frenzel sees in the book is also a woman — a terribly repressed young lady, dominated by her invalid mother. Her life, such as it is, also gets interrupted.
In between, there’s a rough factory worker with a nice family; the abused daughter of an abused mother; a man who hates his wife so much he pushes her off the roof of his house while it’s besieged by zombies (she also becomes a zombie, and a patient); an embittered former surgeon; and a conceited stage actor.
The characters are each well-drawn with enough personal description, dialog and action to give readers a decent picture of who and what they are.
Plot: A plague that turns people into flesh-eating zombies hits the country, if not the world. It’s spread via zombie bites. The U.S. government finds an antidote, but not before Dr. Frenzel’s adored wife is devoured by zombies, before his eyes. The doctor sets up a practice ostensibly to treat the trauma of having been a flesh-eating zombie. His real agenda, however, is judgement and vengeance.
As the patients tell their stories to Dr. Frenzel — and to the readers — he determines whether or not they deserve to live. Most do not, and the doctor executes them in unique ways at the end of each session, with varying degrees of ease.
Alas, he doesn’t know the police have him under surveillance.
Setting: Settings are unique to each character’s story, and fairly generic, though with enough description to give the stories traction. Suburbs, a nursing home, a theater, and a high-rise office building are some of the settings. Also, a mountain of decomposing zombie corpses is where Dr. Frenzel takes some of his “cured” patients.
What I thought could have been done better: The story had a few minor grammatical and word errors, though not anywhere near enough to derail the narrative:
The car skidded to a stop and surveyed the empty patch of gravel in front of his hood.
Maybe the word “he” was simply omitted? The car skidded to a stop and he surveyed…
Zane misspelled champagne several times as “champaign.”
Zane might have also paid a touch more attention to active voice, which can really tighten a story up. For instance:
A group of kids who must have once been playing basketball on the blacktop court, were being devoured by a group of men in military uniforms. The soldiers were dripping with blood.
Here it is in active voice:
A group of men in military uniforms devoured kids who must have been playing basketball on the blacktop court. The soldiers dripped blood.
It’s still a wonderfully gory, awful scene, but active voice makes it a little more — well, active. To Zane’s credit he does get plenty of active voice in the story, but where passive voice does show up, it weakens the narrative unnecessarily.
One other thing — and this is strictly subjective — Zane gives us a wonderful flashback to happier times for Victor and in his wife, Barbara, early in the book. This helps set up the awfulness of her death, which is all done really well.
I felt more flashbacks to happier times between the two throughout the book would have served two very useful purposes. First, they would have made a great, sharp contrasts with the rather unrelieved horror (it is a horror story, I know). Those contrasts give stories depth and dimension.
It would also help us to stay reminded why Dr. Frenzel is so single-minded and merciless in his pursuit of vengeance. I’m sure memories of the love of his life that was stolen often tormented him. Why not share the torment?
What I thought was good: First, I liked the structure of the novel. Each character was a new story. Dr. Frenzel ties them all together. Structure is the skeleton of the story. This skeleton was fleshed in good dialogue, with plenty of black humor. In this scene, Dr. Frenzel talks about his murdered wife to the corpse of his first victim while pulling it down the stairs, the corpse’s head bouncing on each step:
“She liked scotch.”
“Can you imagine…”
“Finding a woman like her…”
“Who likes scotch?”
Of course the main attraction of this — and I’d guess any zombie novel — would be the attacks of the zombies. Author Zane serves up plenty. Here, they go after Keegan Sanchez, one of Dr. Frenzel’s patients:
Two hands wrapped firmly around his wrist. Another teenage boy in a basketball jersey, with a hideously chewed face, clamped his teeth onto his pinky finger. He squinted through the pain and rage blurred his vision like waves of heat from a barbecue grill. The half-dead basketball player ground his teeth back and forth over his little finger. He used his pointer and middle fingers to gouge into the kid’s eyes and pushed his thumb up under the boy’s chin. Gripping the kid’s head like a bowling ball…
Well, you get the idea. And note the good use of active voice and vivid verbs in that passage. Plenty of brains, intestines and other gore splatter liberally about before the tale is totally told.
I also liked the wonderfully colorful cover, and the main character’s name — Victor Frenzel. Is that a nod, perhaps, to Victor Frankenstein?
Overall: So who writes a perfect book? This is a lovely, lurid tale full of shambling horror, desperate but futile flight, revenge, and dark humor with some interesting moral overtones. Aftereffects: Zombie Therapy is a unique and interesting take on the zombie story, and gory fun for the whole family. Well, maybe not Mom.
Good job, Zane!