Book Review: DEAD OF NIGHT by Jonathan Maberry

St. Martin’s Griffin
Publish date: October 25th, 2011

Jonathan Maberry, author of the Joe Ledger books and the YA Rot and Ruin series has a new stand-alone out called Dead of Night. It’s a well-crafted, fast-paced B movie homage to George A. Romero’s influential film Night of the Living Dead. In essence, you could call it almost a remake of that story, but updated for the 21st century. Unlike most remakes, this one brings enough originality to the table to hold its own. The setting is rural Pennsylvania. It begins in the evening, as a hurricane is rolling in. Two small-town cops are sent to investigate a break-in at a local morgue. What these two police officers don’t know is that the morgue has just received the body of a recently executed serial killer. Officer Stemmons, a black middle-aged man, and Office Dez Fox, a female Afghanistan Army vet, walk into a world where they realize they’re not dealing with just another break-in. The dead serial killer, Homer Gibbons, had a very special doctor in prison. This doctor, in another life, was a Cold War Russian scientist working on very bad things. Through chicanery on the part of the CIA, after the Cold War he was granted the job of his choice, after making the promise to never attempt to practice any of his old experiments again. Now from what I know about Russians, if you told Vladimir Putin he couldn’t do any one of the wild-ass crazy things that Vladimir Putin is known to do… well, Putin knows judo. Now you’re probably realizing that the body of Homer Gibbons was no ordinary corpse, and this was no ordinary break-in and things are about to go very, very bad.

As you read, the comparisons to Night of the Living Dead are inevitable. Night of the Living Dead is, after all, a three chord punk song that has been built upon and copied over and over again – sometimes well, and sometimes the results are forgettable. Maberry takes that same three chord formula, adds in new layers and subplots, as well as a plausible explanation for where the whole “zombie outbreak” comes from. Also, you’ll find similarities to Romero’s 1973 film The Crazies, as well as its 2010 remake. One thing that Dead of Night lacks is the acute level of paranoia that can be found in Romero’s films NOTLD and The Crazies. Sometimes you can’t help but wonder, if you’ve seen any of those films, if Maberry saw them himself and how they were filtered through his eyes, and what, if any, relation they have to this new story. Threaded throughout the story are subplots and characters that may only last for a page or two but round out the plot in ways that most films lack. When I read Maberry’s other work, I always find myself absorbed by his level of detail and his knowledge of weapons, tactics, hand-to-hand combat, character development, etc. Something that always throws me off, however, such as in the Joe Ledger books, are the long-winded scientific sections. (If you’ve read them you know what I mean.) There is none of that in Dead of Night. The Rot and Ruin zombie series is a PG13, YA based series. The Ledger books and Dead of Night are hard Rs. I could see in the future Dead of Night being made into a movie, but I almost wish that wouldn’t happen. It retains more power as a book. I hope that Maberry continues to write stand-alones, I enjoy them more than his series work, although I will admit that the Rot and Ruin series has a fun, original edge to it.

Dave Wahlman