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on 28 October 2009
I've been on a real indie book bender lately. There's something refreshing about small press novels that I really enjoy, be it the DIY spirit of the venture in general or the groundbreaking ideas that the books themselves contain. I think one of the things that grabs me the most about the small press world is the sheer amount of heart and dedication that go into the production, a feeling that's miles and miles away from the cold, corporate feel that sometimes radiates from Big Publishing.

Don't get me wrong, corporate entities have their place, I suppose, but small presses give me a warm and fuzzy feeling inside, even when they're printing things that shouldn't generate that kind of response.

Drop Dead Gorgeous, published by Permuted Press, is one such book. I loved it, every page and every minute spent with my nose buried in it, but damn is this one of the most heartbreaking books I've ever read. I don't think I've ever read anything quite so bleak before, despite having read literally hundreds of horror novels from my teen years to this day.

DDG is, essentially, the story of a zombie outbreak in and around Belfast, Northern Ireland, but what makes it so unique (and, in my opinion, chillingly effective) is that the focus throughout remains squarely on the characters. Two high school kids, a tattooist, a radio DJ, an aging Loyalist soldier, an IRA supporter, a retired college professor, a twenty-something slacker and several others have found themselves alone, the rest of the citizenry suddenly dead for reasons unknown. People have fallen in their homes, keeled over at the wheel of their cars and dropped dead on the streets, all for little to no reason. Bodies are left to rot where they lay as the city's infrastructure shuts down, and the survivors hole up in enclaves scattered throughout the country.

Some of the bodies, however, defy the rotting process, and become more and more beautiful with each passing day...

I don't think I read the word `zombie' once during the whole novel, though I could be wrong about that. My point to this is, though, that the reanimated dead are never treated as the shamblers found so often in Romero-style zombie stories. Nor are they swift-footed zombies, tearing after human survivors while screaming and clawing at the air. They're dangerous, to be sure, and sometimes form mobs, but the reanimated women are wholly original creatures. Inside their non-living brains reside memories, albeit seemingly hidden ones, and when they return to life their former emotions come very much into play.

DDG is a very slow burn. The horror doesn't come into play for quite some time, instead focusing on the people who've found themselves thrown into chaos and the things they must do to ensure their own survival. These are people who have lost loved ones, sometimes their entire families, and must now make do with a life without camaraderie or the comforts they once took for granted. Simmons handles this heartbreakingly well. Several times I found myself feeling real pity for his characters, wanting them to somehow find their way to happiness. There were times, as well, when I almost didn't want to turn the page, knowing fully well that in horror novels those that die often outweigh those that survive to see The End.

DDG is a wild, highly emotional ride that I'm very glad to have taken. Its sequel, DOLL PARTS, is forthcoming, and I'll be picking it up the moment it hits Amazon.
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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!
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on 25 February 2011
You see this is why you shouldn't so easily give five star reviews. I gave Wayne Simmons' previous novel Flu 5 star giving me no where to go to improve my rating of this book. Shame as its chuffing great. Better than 'Flu' which I enjoyed too and like its predecessor a real page turner . The writing is more confident, cleaner and less fussy, because of this is more expressive. It really feels like the writer of Flu having a second go. The structure is the same. The characters are front and center, initially seemingly unconnected as the story progresses they slowly become drawn together as their stories cross. Again the apocalyptic events, at least for the first two thirds mere back drop to very human tales.

Unlike Flu however the third and final part makes the 'events' very much part of the story. At first as this stage of the story started I really resented it. It felt like an unnecessary intrusion onto a tale that was doing quite nicely thank you and was frankly even more horrific in its own way. Even though you knew it was coming foreshadowed throughout the first two thirds, it felt out of place and jarring. Then when trapped in its thrilling gore it clicks and makes perfect sense as a way to conclude the story. Heck there's even a further neat explanation which you can chose to take or leave as you please.

The story for me (and I have a long history of getting this type of thing wrong) casts Northern Ireland (and the rest of the world but it around Belfast that we are witnesses) into a kind of purgatory. People taken from the world and having to process their guilt and sins, however much they try to avoid it, before they can move on. The end is therefore an almighty judgement from the dead, or even the still living and not always fair at that.

As I've said with Flu though its fantastically drawn and complex characters that make the book the success it is. I'm really looking forward to whatever Wayne does next.

Oh and it was a truly fantastic opening as well.

More than a guilty pleasure.
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on 1 September 2011
Drop Dead Gorgeous is a short, sharp, character driven horror novel. It has a great opening chapter that I won't spoil, rest assured it contains enough humour and shocks to keep you reading.

As with all novels where the characters are front and centre, if they are not believably written the whole story falls flat. Fortunately the cast are a well rounded, and diverse bunch. The players range from young to old, good to evil, political to fanatical, and are all seemingly unconnected.

Set mainly in Belfast after the whole end-of-the-world-thing, you are introduced to your survivors. Simmons writes with a punchy and occasionally brutal clarity, describing their day to day existence, puzzlement and behaviour. Some parts of the book are hilarious, granted the humour is dark, but in a novel about zombies and the general end of the world it's going to be.

Alice Cooper once said that watching Rob Zombie in concert was like seeing a tattoo parlour come to life, which describes the zombie uprising in DDG pretty well. It's colourful, vivid, loud and and of course gory. The twist on the zombie formula is welcome but not too different from classic reanimated novels for it to be jarring.

Apparently there is a sequel in the works which I look forward to reading, however those who don't enjoy TBC endings need not worry, you get a complete story and a satisfying ending.

I picked this up during a restock of my to read pile on Amazon and I'm glad I did. If you're into zombie novels and fancy a well written intelligent take on the subject with a bit of a twist I'd highly recommended it.
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on 17 January 2011
This is a good apocalyptic survival horror novel, but zombie fans maybe disappointed. It starts well, with most of the population suddenly dropping dead without any explanation, leaving only a few scattered groups of survivors, who we then follow through most of the book, without any rising of the undead. And when they do rise, it's just the undead women. And they don't like the rain!
So, to defeat these zombies, take away their umbrellas, or use a water pistol. Oh dear!

For stark gruesome zombie horror, you can't beat the original novelization of Night of the Living Dead by John Russo.
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on 19 January 2012
What can I say? Though not a long book I had a very tough time in getting through it, the first 2/3rds with nothing really original after seeing tv series like Survivors or The Walking Dead or reading other zombie books and Stephen King novels (for example the much abused character of the preacher was a real let down for what should have been such an original take on the apocalyptic genre).

In the very last third of the book the worst: zombie, but only female ones! take a vengeance on their offenders (and here horror borders on morbidity) but will also take an interest in other people at random except (but here the logic defies me) in selected cases they will ignore the potential victim... always switching their eyes like semaphore lights...
Only thing I know for sure is that some of the people suddenly dropping dead were probably reading this book.
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on 26 July 2011
DROP DEAD GORGEOUS has to have one of the best kick ass female characters that I have ever read. Star is not just an anti-hero, she is feisty, outspoken and the woman your mother warned you about. For too long writers, have overlooked a good solid female role, something Mr Simmons has managed to do and pull it off in a realistic way.

The dead are rising in Belfast City, and Simmons extraordinary characters all search in different ways to make sense of the aftermath. Simmons manages to write about characters as diverse as a university professor and an army officer with an attention to detail and believability that few in this genre can do.

This novel is brutal in its characterisations, real people with attitude, Simmons has taped into the soul of those on the sidelines of society and given them a voice, placing them in an apocalyptic scenario, with none of the glamour of the Hollywood blockbuster, this is what it would be really like to face the end of the world, its dirty, smelly and bad, and boy it is a really really good to read....

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on 19 May 2013
It's expensive and does not warrant the price tag. Here's why - one thing I found extremely annoying is that it is never explained why most people die and what's stupid is how no one bothers to bury the bodies. Also, it's a little gruesome that the tattoo artist tattoos a dead body and decides to finish the job. Don't worry, it's near the start of the book so it's not much of a spoiler. I found the story got boring very quickly and you swap between so many characters and their scenarios that you lose track of who's who (I always struggle when there are more than six main characters) and you have the impression that the writer doesn't care about any of his characters. One way or another, most of them deserve to have a hard time. The reason I bought this, despite a couple of negative reviews, was that it looked nice and I liked the plot line but why not explain why everyone drops dead? It's the one thing that should be dealt with and should not go ignored.

*Spoilers - but I suggest you read anyway

Additionally, there is no reason why only female zombies awake and the men just decay. What's also too unrealistic is the fact that every zombie is a beauty. The average woman is a size 11 and most women are not absolutely gorgeous. The writer should have portrayed a variety of dead women. I also disliked the idea of their eyes changing colour like a roulette wheel. At first, what was good was that they were killing guilty people, which was clever but even then the writer took that away and his zombies starting attacking the innocent. The book is also very predictable, because the second a Preacher is introduced I thought 'he's going to be a bad guy' and he was.
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on 3 March 2012
I had read Wayne Simmons' book, 'Flu', and this was a fast-paced and exiting, classic Zombie tale. Unfortunately 'Drop Dead Gorgeous' does not live up to expectations after reading 'Flu' at all. Most of the book bar 20 pages tell a good story of the characters but it is very drawn out with description of the state of the calm before the storm as it were. The last 20 pages or so seem to cram in a shoddy tale of the undead. It is quickly skipped over with no suspense and almost all of the characters whom you've heard so much about get killed off. It seems as if Wayne got bored of his own book and quickly ended it without a proper suspense/ horror tale to unfold. Do not be fooled by the cover - it's the only thing worth buying!!
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on 3 April 2011
Wayne Simmons has managed to create a new kind of zombie. Plus he has managed to write a novel that makes the zombies the nice people. Don't get me wrong, the "living" are the main characters in this story, they are the heroes or anti-heroes. The majority of them are very unlikable as people. But great characters all the same. This is a great "pulp" fiction apocalyptic horror story. Non stop from beginning to end, with great one liners and a brilliant story. Wayne has a gift of making everything jump out of the page and conjuring images in our heads.
I highly recommend this book to all zombie/horror fans.
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