I read a lot of zombie novels. A LOT. Lucky for me I’ve been on a roll. Joe McKinney just gets better and better with each novel and in general the zombie books I’ve been reading have all been solid and hitting that balance of great human characters as well as great zombie violence. Well we can add another book into this category!! Robert R. Best’s LAKEWOOD MEMORIAL is an extremely fun read that has an old-school feel to it but which also fits perfectly into the current day canon of great zombie literature.
The premise is pretty simple: Single mother Angela Land works as a nurse’s aide at, you guessed it, Lakewood Memorial. She doesn’t particularly like her job but she needs it, so we watch her take shit from both patients and arrogant doctors alike. She has two kids, 14 year old Maylee and 12 year old Dalton, who this particular night are being babysat by Brooke. What starts off as a typical day at work for Angela quickly becomes a fight for survival as the hospital becomes ground zero for the zombie apocalypse. The outbreak didn’t start at the hospital (the first cases began and spread at Ed’s Diner), but where do you think people who are bitten by others and come down with bad fevers will end up? The hospital!! [Zombie Survival Tip: Stay the fuck away from hospitals when a zombie outbreak occurs people!!]
Also in the mix is Parker Welch who brings his buddy Morton Buck (Moe) to the hospital to be treated for a nasty bite he got at Ed’s Diner. Parker is an interesting character; in the beginning of the novel he was going to kill himself, but now that he’s faced with and surrounded by death he decides to fight. Angela sparks inside of him the urge to fight and find out what’s happened to his own children, who he’s estranged from. Parker and Angela eventually team up with Freeda, a co-worker of Angela’s; Mr. Paulsen, a grumpy wheelchair-bound patient; Kristen, Mr. Paulsen’s daughter; and Sam, Kristen’s husband. They try to band together in order to fight their way out of the hospital and I haven’t seen a group of characters more at each other’s throats since Sartre’s NO EXIT!! But Angela’s main motivation is to get to her children, whom she doesn’t even know if they’re still alive.
Also fighting for their lives are Maylee and Dalton and their babysitter Brooke. They’re trying to fight their way TO the hospital to be with their mom. The action is divided between these two groups of survivors as they fight off death to come together. This is a pretty basic setup (adults fighting to get to their children) but Best does a fantastic job with this all-too-familiar plot.
To begin with, Best keeps the characters simple. We get great background stories on all the characters and watch them grow and develop over the course of the novel, but what works here is that Best doesn’t give us too many characters. He keeps the main characters down to a handful allowing the reader to really connect with them all. Even the standard “asshole” character that is found in every zombie novel gets a certain amount of empathy from the reader. Sure they’re an asshole, but we understand why they’re assholes. We also really get inside the head of Angela. She’s a mother who wants to find and protect her children of course, but there’s a lot more going on with her character. She’s a survivor and always has been. She’s been struggling to support her family as a single mother and now she’s struggling to keep her family alive. There’s some great characters here.
I also like how there’s no concrete cause or reason as to why the dead are rising. They are and that’s that. Other zombie novels try and do too much with the time frame the novel is set in. Most begin (and gloss over) the origins of the outbreak and end the novel several months or years after the initial outbreak. Not LAKEWOOD MEMORIAL. Best, wisely in my opinion, limits the scope of the novel to the first few hours after the initial outbreak. This is the first book in a trilogy, so why try and cram everything into one novel? A great decision that pays off nicely for Best.
I know, I know … what about the fucking zombies, right?? Don’t worry; the zombies here will satisfy even the most demanding reader. There’s a ton of zombie violence and carnage and Best isn’t afraid to go to some pretty dark places (there’s a scene that takes place in a maternity ward that is really disturbing but will also bring a tear to your eye). Best’s zombies are a nice blend of old-school and new-school. We don’t just get living people who’re bit and then become zombies, oh no. We get the old-school scenario of long dead corpses rising out of the grave to attack the living. These zombies are slow moving and not difficult to re-kill, but they also add a lot of volume to the ever-increasing zombie menace. The zombies here are also afraid of fire, a nice touch that reminded me of the zombies from the original NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD.
But the freshly turned zombies are the real stars here. They don’t exactly run, but they do move friggin’ fast. And the time it takes from bite to full blown infection doesn’t take too long. Best also doesn’t write a self-referential zombie novel where the characters know they’re in a zombie novel, a style that I’m friggin’ sick of already. Best simply makes zombies fucking frightening again and reminds us why zombies are in the collective consciousness of genre fans everywhere. That’s right, Best is one of the few (and unfortunately rare) writers who never forgets he’s writing a zombie novel!!
LAKEWOOD MEMORIAL is a solid addition to the zombie canon and I can’t wait to start reading the second book in the trilogy. I can’t recommend LAKEWOOD MEMORIAL enough!! Check this one out at amazon.com, You’re gonna thank me!!
Author: Robert R. Best
Plot: 4 out of 5 stars
Gore: 8 out of 10 skulls
Zombie Mayhem: 5 out of 5 brains
Reviewed by Scott Shoyer