Colder than Hell (Dead Man #16) by Anthony Neil Smith (2013,47North)
Anthony Neil Smith adds a chapter to the Dead Man series with the hero, Matt Cahill, confronting a horde of zombies on the frozen North Dakota. The series, which was launched last year by Lee Goldberg and William Rabkin, concerns the adventures of a man reborn to fight a supernatural evil known as Mr. Dark. He can see those corrupted by Dark as disfigured rotting corpses, even if no other person can. The authors have been able to get numerous cutting-edge writers to contribute monthly episodes. In essence, this is a bold attempt to use electronic media to relaunch the glory days of the horror pulps.
Smith was initially adverse to writing the episode, as he felt his forte was crime fiction. But he relented and produced a chilling selection for the series. I should read the other books in this series, they sound promising. This one is short, coming in at 99 pages.
Smith gets right down to business with page one of the novelette. The first few chapters introduce the main characters who are trapped on the highway. There’s a prison van transporting a psycho killer, an unwed mother trying to make a job interview, a van with aspiring rock musicians, and a middle class family with issues. Too many authors would go for the cheap effect, making them disposable victims. But Smith invests each one of them with their own chapter, giving the characters depth.
Complicating the snow storm is the release of a virus which turns people into steaming, giggly zombies. They constantly need other people and the plague starts to spread down a column of cars and vehicles trapped in a blizzard on the interstate. Only Cahill, a man who was dead and reborn isn’t affected by the germ. It’s up to him to stop the spread of the disease with his trusty ax.
As is his trademark, Smith has a way to squeeze humor out of the worst situations: Such as the reflections of a convicted killer on his court trial after the tape of him using a chainsaw has just been shown:
“The day they played that in court, seven jurors threw up. The others looked pale. George just shrugged at them. What’re ya gonna do?
Insanity defense? Even temporary? George wouldn’t hear of it. It didn’t feel right. No, he was going to take it head-on. Yeah, that’s me on the tape. Yeah, I cut them up pretty damn good. Yeah, I’m pleading not guilty.”
Since Colder than Hell is the first book I’ve read in the series, I have no idea how it compares to the others. The creators of the series had designed it so any one novel could be read as a stand-alone. I may check out some of the other ones in the future.