When I first saw the cover to “The Sleeping Dead” by Richard Farren Barber, I thought that I was going to be in for a new zombie book from DarkFuse. I will say that this book is not what I expected going in to the story, but the question is whether or not that is a good thing.
Jackson Smith needed this new job to get his life back on track. That is why he decided to continue to the interview on foot when traffic was snarled due to a suicide. Jackson’s interview is ruined by one of the interviewer’s nervous twitching and almost seizure-like symptoms. When Jackson witnesses that man leaping from a window just after the completion of the interview, he knew that this just was not his day. With the stigma of being the outsider who watched the manager commit suicide, he knew that he had no chance of landing the job.
Jackson soon realizes that the day is going to get much worse once he starts to hear voices in his head urging him to harm himself even while he experiences a bizarre series of events in which people kill themselves. When he saves a woman from a pair of her violent coworkers who were trying to force her to leap to her death, the pair must escape from the city in search of Jackson’s girlfriend. As they travel across a landscape that has become a landscape of self-violence, Jackson continues to struggle with the voices in his head that urge him to violence. He soon comes to notice that, in addition to those hell bent on suicide, are others that seem to have simply given up on life and have become dead while still alive. These “sleeping dead” are proof that there may be worse things than death and Jackson finds himself in a struggle to stay alive as well as keep the hope that life brings.
“The Sleeping Dead” is not anything like I expected it would be when I started the book. There is not a zombie to be seen in this book although it does have an almost zombie-like feel to it at times. Now, I am not saying this as a criticism of the book as I thought that this is a very strong novella that does a very good job of rounding out the month’s offerings from DarkFuse as the third release for August that is well above average. The novella kicks off in high gear and I found myself horrified with what was happening but compelled to keep reading. It was almost like rubbernecking at the scene of an accident: you may be somewhat sickened by what you see (and by the macabre interest that fills your mind) but you are unable to look away. The first half of “The Sleeping Dead” had me cringing and cheering for Jackson to survive as the world fell apart around him.
Once Jackson escapes from the building in which he had his interview, the entire tone and pace of the story changes with the introduction of the sleeping dead. There is still some violence but the majority of those who gave into the urging of the voices in their heads are now dead already. What is left is the landscape of despair that is left in the aftermath. I typically read some reviews of a book after I have read it just to see what others have to say about the novel and I was surprised to see that many people did not like this shift in story but I found this to be the true power of the story. The first half of the book is all action and entertaining horror while the second half of the book is more thoughtful and, to be honest, scary as hell. While they lack the thrill of the violent victims, the sleeping dead are the embodiment of despair and hopelessness. Maybe it is because I have experience with depression, these victims were the ones that scared me the most and the change in the voices that Jackson heard fit in with them perfectly. The old saying is that the world ends not with a bang but a whimper and Barber nails this. The story opens with the bang that begins the apocalypse and then closes it out with the whimper of the living death that is a life without meaning that will ultimately lead to the end of the species. This is a daring choice by Barber and one that I think that he should be commended for.
I would like to thank DarkFuse and NetGalley for this advance review copy. “The Sleeping Dead” will be released in August and is available for preorder now.