Original Release Date: September 4, 2010
Publisher: Twisted Library Press
It seems as though most zombie tales — whether it be movies or books or even video games — takes place in either present day, some version of the future, or at some point in the 20th century. Thankfully, within the past few years that has changed, with the appearance of such novels as the “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” series setting Jane Austen’s 19th century England on its decaying gore-soaked ears. Even so, one time period has always felt off limits in the written world: the Old West. Maybe it has something to do with the romanticism of the grizzled cowboy riding off into the sunset on his trusty horse leaving the woman he loves behind, or with the ideas of life in those days as set by authors such as Larry McMurtry or Zane Grey. But with the influx of zombies into popular culture, specifically movies like The Quick and the Undead and Undead or Alive, along with video games like Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare, the undead have finally been allowed to roam the deserts and mountains of the Old West, and author Lori Titus uses that setting at the backdrop for her debut novel, “Lazarus.”
Luella Pembry steps down from a train in Lazarus, California, in the late 1890s. Based on the research of her late husband Marcus, she knows that this small town is soon to become the epicenter of a Rising – an awakening of the undead. She has the ability to help prevent it, but needs to convince town sheriff Benjamin Drake and mayor Jasper Cole that the threat is real. Unbeknownst to Drake, the mayor is keenly aware of the “problem”, and Luella’s arrival threatens Cole’s work on trying to control the undead through his own means. Can Luella and the sheriff put a stop to Cole’s plans before the entire town of Lazarus is overrun with the undead?
Let’s run this tale of zombies in the Old West through the Score to see what happens….
G: General Entertainment – Something I enjoy most about reading is the act of discovery. “Lazarus” tells an interesting tale, but too much is revealed too soon and with little prompting. For example, within a few early pages of the book, Luella spills everything about her dealings with the dead and why she’s in Lazarus without putting up a fuss. Gradually learning her history and her reasons for being in Lazarus would add much to the telling of the tale. But what makes up for that is the concept that Titus presents about the zombies themselves. 5/10
O: Original Content – The story broaches the idea that zombies occur naturally and have for hundreds of years. By examining the folklore and legends of different countries, patterns begin to emerge, and outbreaks of the undead – called Risings – can be localized to specific areas of the globe where “magnetic disturbances” in the Earth are the greatest. Even more intriguing is how people dabbling in magic may be able to control the undead to make the shambling monsters do their bidding – a nice throwback to the zombies of voodoo. Another singular idea is that the undead don’t actually realize that they are dead, and by giving them regular food or drink, they will return to the grave on their own. To me, that’s so out-of-the-box when it comes to zombies that I wanted to see it played out with the characters rather than as a passing anecdote. 8/10
R: Realism – The romance between Luella and Drake – two people who just met – is almost instantaneous, and I found myself questioning it throughout the story. In addition, most of the characters feel flat, speaking with almost the same monotone presentation throughout. The three main characters, however, manage to pick up the slack and create a tense triangle that carries throughout the story. 4/10
E: Effects and Editing – Interaction with zombies does not occur until more than halfway through the story, which works well for “Lazarus” as the tension slowly mounts while the reader wonders just what the zombies are going to do. Their first appearance “in the flesh,” so to speak, provides a gory image of the undead, one with “her eye sockets weeping with gore” (just what you’d want in a zombie, really). The addition of the helpful ghosts and magic into the fold also provides a nice touch, especially in scenes involving the villain. 7/10
TOTAL SCORE: 6/10
“Lazarus” offers a solid tale of zombie mayhem mixed with a little bit of magic and of the supernatural. Parts of the story could use a bit of fleshing out, pardon the pun, allowing the reader to slowly uncover the backstories rather than throwing all the cards on the table so early. However, the idea of naturally-occurring zombies rather than by a manmade means makes this a tale worth reading. A good first effort from Lori Titus and a welcome entry into the zombie world.
And now you know the Score!
REVIEWED BY: Greg Carter