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Drop Dead Gorgeous brings new life to the walking dead
on 8 June 2012
Coming across something new or even refreshing is difficult within a genre such as horror. Many filmmakers and even novelists plump for tried and tested ideas and the major archetypes within the genre cover a multitude of storylines and subsequently, at least to my mind, very little material seems original; which is why I am so taken with Drop Dead Gorgeous by Wayne Simmons.
After a fairly pedestrian introduction and judging by the size of the paperback, I wasn't expecting great things from Drop Dead Gorgeous. I got quite a surprise once I got started...
Simmons creates a bleak post-apocalyptic Belfast that could well be any city in the UK and his set up for what appears to be the end of humanity reminded me of the BBC series Survivors, with the majority of mankind taken down by some unknown malady, leaving only a handful apparently immune to this unseen assault.
Similar to many post-apocalyptic novels, Simmons has his survivors start to band together in disparate groups with some distinct characters emerging. The setting of Belfast adds an interesting dynamic to the proceedings in the form of sectarianism, lending itself to the storyline the same way that racism did to George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead; and perpetuating pre-existing divisions between some of the characters.
As for the characters, initially, I thought I was going to have the usual horror memes thrust upon me: the naïve teenager, ageing soldier, the family man, the fire and brimstone preacher, etc etc ad nauseum ad infinitum. This preconception couldn't have been more misplaced. Simmons develops his characters tremendously well; they come replete with all the fallacies of the human condition, dirty little habits and desires, rendering them painfully real.
Unlike other post-apocalyptic/ zombie tales which dive straight into the mayhem, Simmons takes his time in developing the plotline with all the patience of a chess player moving his pieces expertly around the board. In fact, much of the novel revolves around the plight of the survivors without the addition of the walking dead but I assure you, when Simmons moves to his endgame and the dead rise in Drop Dead Gorgeous, they do so with a vengeance... Those looking for an instant gore-fix will be left champing at the bit with this work by Simmons; but for me, that simply ramped up the tension since after reading the back cover of the book, you know it's coming...
The newly risen dead are distinctly different from Romero-esque zombies and perhaps more akin to the infected of 28 Days Later; but I think it is unfair to pigeonhole what Simmons has created here since this particular breed of walking dead I have never come across in all my horror fiction experience.
After reading Drop Dead Gorgeous, it dawned on me that the events of the book depict an almost biblical rising of the dead and a purging of the earth. However, I far prefer the explanation given near the closing of the book and choose not to reveal that, instead urging you to go and find out for yourself!