Joe McKinney’s The Dead Won’t Die

Jacob Carlton, Joe McKinney’s protagonist in both The Dead Won’t Die (Pinnacle, October 2015) and Plague of the Undead (Pinnacle, October 2014), isn’t heroic and doesn’t want to be a hero. He’s just an ordinary guy, like you or I, caught up in extraordinary circumstances. All he wants is to survive.

Jake acts the way you or I might react given similar circumstances, not the way we should act but the way we would act. He’s scared shitless most of the time. Jake has more tragic flaws to his personality—uncontrollable displays of anger, a naive schoolboy crush on a married woman named Kelly, and Jake is best friends with a guy who takes advantage of underaged girls—than he has redeeming qualities. In fact, Jake not only lets down almost all of his friends by failing to protect them from zombies and slavers, he deliberately and with malice aforethought kills two of his best friends.

Jake swore an oath to live or die by the Code, Arbella’s version the The Ten Commandments. As one of Arbella’s few police officers, Jake is forced to act as public executioner and shoot Jerry Grieder in the head. Jake does his sworn duty and later discovers circumstantial evidence has been misinterpreted and Jake executes the wrong man. When the right man turns out to be Jake’s best friend, Jake does his duty again, this time without flinching.

The Dead Won’t Die, the second book in the series, finds Jake and Kelly in what seems at first to be paradise. Temple, the post-zombie apocalypse city that emerges from the former Galveston, has electric lights, electric automobiles, morphic-field powered aerofluyts, and is entirely zombie-free. Just as Arbella was created as a refuge for ordinary people who thus-far have survived the zombie apocalypse, Temple was created as a refuge primarily for extraordinary people: scientists, engineers, trained technicians, doctors, nurses,and corporate executives. What Temple does not have is police officers nor a mutually-agreeable code of conduct.

Jacob, Kelly, and Chelsea soon discover they have been betrayed by the powers-that-be who run Temple. Chelsea’s deceased father, once an honored scientist, is being discredited by Doctor Lester Brooks and the ruling council of Temple. When Chelsea secretes her father’s research and refuses to turn her father’s notebooks over to the council, armed men attempt to capture or kill her. Jacob, Kelly, and Chelsea go on the run. Not only do they have to fight off armed mercenaries who wear Kevlar-embedded battle armor and carry high-tech weaponry, but hoards of zombies from the Great Texas Herd.

McKinney has crafted an exciting series of novels where everyone who dies instantly becomes a zombie. Though Jake is more of an anti-hero than a hero, his love for Kelly and his determination to survive make readers care about the outcome. Despite everything else, Jake is still a cop at heart and he gathers evidence and solves murder mysteries while fighting against zombies and city hall to achieve justice for all.

Not McKinney’s best work, but The Dead Won’t Die is still a competent novel and an exciting read. Highly recommended.

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