William Jones, Pallid Light: The Walking Dead (Elder Signs Press, 2009)
My first thought upon finishing this book was "I wonder if that subtitle was put there by Jones or by Elder Signs Press". It just doesn't fit. It's grammatically awkward, and while there are zombies in the book, they are more plot device around the characters than they are main attraction (think Robert Kirkman more than, say, Greg Solis). Because of this, I wonder if some of this book's readers are going to be disappointed that there isn't more zombie action. That said, I was not one of those readers. I've had some bad runs with micropress novels recently, and Pallid Light was quite a welcome change; it throws a few interesting twists into the origins hypothesis, it gives us solid characters and realistic (within the frame of Jones' world-building) action, and it comes to a satisfying climax. Tell me again why Ben Tripp is publishing on a major label while William Jones is on a micropress who can't get books into libraries to save their lives?
Plot: Rand Clay is an ex-con who's moved to the small town of Temperance, Illinois, in search of a fresh start. The town won't let him have one, though; he'll always be "the murderer living out at the old boardinghouse." He's got one friend in town, the lovely if slightly cracked Cada, but everyone else looks at him as if he's going to start shooting up the general store at any minute. Cada lives in the next apartment over, so when the world goes insane, it's pretty easy for them to get together. And the world does go insane. A country-wide, possibly global, electrical storm, coupled with strange lights in the sky, knocks out the town's electricity, floods most of its streets, and causes the dead to get up and start walking. Oh, those silly dead folks. Rand and Cada, helped by a recently-deceased neighbor's car, decide to high-tail it out of town, but they keep getting distracted by such things as the need for supplies, the discovery of other survivors (not all of whom wish them well), etc.
Jones starts throwing twists at you almost form the get-go, which serves to keep things interesting while staying within a stable convention (the biggest twist is that zombism is not transferred via bite, which server to amp up the action at the cost of horror; this is much more an action novel than a horror novel anyway). The characterization is solid, though given the variations on the theme, I wish Rand had been a little less conventional than he is; he's your typical bad-boy-makes-good hero. Cada is a much more interesting character, and shows what Jones is capable of, and Rand's reactions to her are the strongest part of his make-up. The minor characters are, for the most part, just right; enough individuality to make them easily-distinguishable without going into their entire life history (as, say, Stephen King often does).
Looking for a good old-fashioned action book that just happens to include zombies? You could do a lot worse (and trust me, I have) than Pallid Light. *** ½