I’ve had a long love affair with vampire fiction, starting with some great movies I watched as a kid. They certainly provided their share of nightmare fuel and vampires continued to be my favorite monsters for much of my childhood. Naturally I wanted to read about them, too. I quickly learned there were many different interpretations of the source material made popular by Bram Stoker. I talk about some of my favorites in this entry.
Chuck Wendig’s novels have been available for years, but I only started reading his works a few months ago. Had I known about Double Dead earlier, I surely would have added it to my list of favorite vampire novels in my previous blog post. Its premise alone was enough to excite me. I even bought it at a brick-and-mortar Barnes and Noble, something this here cheapskate almost never does. It’s my hope that one day, should he venture to my vicinity for a signing, I can get him to autograph it.
Double Dead’s main character, Coburn, is a vampire. And he’s a jerk. And he’s completely unapologetic about it. That’s what happens when a guy gets used to taking anything he wants, whenever he wants it, without any consequences. But when we meet Coburn, he’s in a bad way, having only a nebulous memory of how he nearly ceased to exist. No problem for him, as soon as he sinks his fangs into an unsuspecting victim. Except there aren’t any human snacks to be enjoyed. He soon learns that human society has collapsed beneath the weight of an apocalyptic event, and now zombies roam the streets. And they taste terrible. Coburn’s only hope for survival is to find human survivors and protect them like prized cows on a farm besieged by wolves. The vampire, a perfect predator, has his weaknesses, and soon he and his charges are on the run from something even scarier than he is.
There’s a lot to like in Wendig’s tale. The characters are lovingly crafted, even those easy to hate. There’s not a Navy SEAL or Green Beret among them. The presence of elite soldiers is all too common in a lot of zombie fiction, and it always seems too convenient for me. Double Dead’s characters are regular folks with familiar motivations and faults. Coburn is kind enough to remind them just how weak and vulnerable they are, if not for his protection, at first anyway. Is there something in Coburn worth redeeming? I think the story would have been far too depressing if there weren’t. The vampire was once human, as little as he cares to admit it, and his character grows despite his best attempts to remain a remorseless killer. There are other characters equally set in their ways, and they were reminders that change is difficult for anyone, not just undead bloodsuckers.
Double Dead’s pacing is flawless. Wendig kept the tension high, even during some of the tamer segments. Most of this seemed effortless because the characters were so detailed and believable that their fears and reactions felt real without being completely predictable. Add that to increasingly worrying threats from the zombies and other enemies, and it made for a joyride of the imagination. Plot twists came when least expected and delivered a page-turning thriller.
Throw in a vivid and varied landscape of ruin and harried survivors, add a dash of hope for a cure to the zombie plague, and Double Dead’s world came completely alive in my mind as I read. The characters are desperate, as they should be to ally themselves with someone like Coburn, and without hope the story likely would have bogged down like so many other zombie apocalypse yarns I’ve read. Double Dead never grew stale. Despite knowing its secrets, I’ll read it again for the character interactions alone.
The novel’s probably not for everyone, but I couldn’t have asked for something better in this genre. I like my vampires savage and sunburned, not romantic and sparkly. It might not be bleak enough for some zombie apocalypse fans, but I think Wendig’s tone, as experienced through his characters, is just hopeful enough to keep them looking for something better and clinging to each other. It’s all colored with dark humor, mostly that from Coburn’s irreverent point of view, that wraps all the elements up together into something spectacular.
Give Double Dead a try and let me know what you think by leaving me a comment here or via Twitter. You can find me @AaronLHamilton.