Written from multiple points of view, the views of a number of characters embroiled in the story, the novel starts with Ethan, a teacher who watches in horror as people start screaming then collapse for three days apparently in a coma. They are diagnosed as SEELS, 'Sudden Encephalitic Epileptic Lethargic Syndrome' - 'cause everyone needs a label!
After the three days are up, the screamers wake up, attacking their loved ones, eating their flesh. The diseased bite their victims, paralyse them in seconds then take control in minutes.
The infection has killed so quickly, it is assumed by scientists that is an engineered virus. The narration switches from past to present tense when talking about the survivors at the beginning. It is a little distracting as a writing technique but works, as the action switches from memories of events to the current action. Amongst the survivors, we also meet Anne, who the others see as a leader, though a battle of wills ensue as Anne (homemaker) and Wendy (cop) fight for leadership of the small band of survivors. Then we meet Sarge and the crew of the Bradley, a military vehicle left after the apocalypse. Just days before, they dropped off six soldiers to test a non lethal device on the walking 'dead' or diseased. But this is to no avail. The Bradley, taking on these survivors, also takes in 'The Kid' a young boy of around 16 who rapidly grows up. The band of survivors set off to reach Camp Defiance, a refugee camp that is apparently infection free.
All of the stereotypical characters are here, but there is a strength and creativity to them that makes this book a cut above the usual zombie fair. The tone is very bleak and DiLouie is incredibly descriptive with his vision of the apocalypse.
Things seem to be travelling along a normal route until they are on their way to the Children's hospital to gather supplies. The narrator remains a little distant until the offhand mention of the name Sarah, a character's wife, and the question of what has happened to her. It is in these musings that the writing becomes much more emotional. It seems as though the unnamed narrator is almost trying to retain their sanity as they relate the events.
The Bradley's occupants are intent on destroying the hospital, the source of infection, its last mission. The majority of the novel is set nine days after infection and uses flashbacks to tell the story of each survivor when the screaming started.
It is at the hospital that things get really insane. Without giving away too much, extra creatures have developed through the infection, and these other creatures, other mutations, come across a little like Stephen King's The Mist. The survivors have to now fight these monsters too.
Poignant, brutal, yet at times heart warming, these characters and their plight for survival stays with you.