Reviews and Recommendations by Mel Odom, Professional Writer

SOULLESS by Christopher Golden

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Zombies are experiencing a resurgence of public interest. Check out the latest movies, comics, novels, and video games and you’ll discover that the undead have staked out a distinct and larger terrain of their own. Worm-riddled and decaying, they claw up from the grave and set out searching for the nearest brain buffet. For whatever reason, zombies apparently are the monster of choice for horror fans.

One of prolific author Christopher Golden’s latest novels is Soulless, his offering to the genre made famous by Night of the Living Dead creator George Romero. I haven’t seen anything new when it comes to zombie fare in a long time. Dawn of the Dead is really creepy because the zombies move so fast, much faster than Romero’s original creatures, and freaked me out when I first saw one of them sprint across the screen. I mean, if zombies can run down speeding cars, heroes just don’t stand much of a chance.

Normally, zombie creators either don’t tell the audience what caused the dead to rise, or they present a pseudo-scientific reason, such as nerve toxins or meteors. Golden chooses to go a different route with his three mediums linked on a live television broadcast in NYC. These prominent mediums gather to use their spirit guides to link them to the Other Side in order to make believers of the audience and the rest of America.

Saying things go awry doesn’t do the result justice. Golden builds up the ensemble characters he uses to tell his tale. He doesn’t go very deep into the characterization of any of them, choosing instead to glide over each of them so that the reader easily fills in the extra details. I didn’t get blown away by the black/white relationship that takes place between Noah and Matt, nor did I see any special surprises in what took place between Tania and her chauffeur/bodyguard. Tania’s worries about losing her girlfriend and her audience almost immediately took back seat to the developing action. The gangbanger arc was really thin, but his friend’s death was surprisingly emotional.

Action is what Golden delivers so well in this novel. The whole event is over in eight hours, from start to finish, and the book never lags. Not only that, but all the action takes place in the daylight, something that I did not expect. But my imagination, fired by more zombie movies then is probably recommended, easily followed the author’s direction. He set up a situation, and I threw in the emotion, from fear to anger to pride. He briefly described characters, and I cast them in a heartbeat. When he mentioned the harsh click-clack of a pump shotgun seating a fresh round, that sound echoed inside my skull.

At first, the quick cuts back and forth between the scenes involving the different characters got on my nerves, but I quickly realized it was only my anticipation of the story that made me feel that way. In fact, if Golden hadn’t shifted back and forth between those different points of view, he would have been doing a disservice to his readers. That constant jockeying of different story lines is what builds the narrative tension and turns the book into a white-knuckle read.

Christmas is usually a hard time of year for me. I don’t settle into things the way I should. I don’t feel festive; I feel restless. I’d tried reading a half-dozen other books before I found Soulless in one of the TBR stacks. I really didn’t think Christmas and the coming New Year’s lent itself to zombie stories, and I felt certain it would be yet another book that would find itself back on my shelf within minutes.

As always, though, Golden’s skilled prose brought me into the story within minutes. For the next few hours, I battled zombies with unexpected relish and zeal. And I read the book alone, at night, which further added to the experience.

Readers won’t get any new thinking here. What they will get is a cracking good read that lunges across the pages with the ferocity of a starving zombie. It’s a familiar terror-filled landscape, peopled with characters just as familiar, but this is comfort reading at its finest. For those of you who happen to find comfort reading about zombies.

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