Director: Tim Lebbon
Publisher: Hammer with Arrow Books
Released: out now!
In the heart of Appalachian mountains, a secret research project – the titular Coldbrook - is experimenting with opening a portal to a parallel Earth. The gateway across the multiverse is protected by powerful screens to prevent any potential hazardous lifeforms crossing over. However the first thing that tries to cross isn't alive... One world has already fallen to a virulent zombie infection, will ours follow?
In the 21st century, the humble zombie has seen a huge upsurge in popularity with a never-ending stream of movies featuring the ravening walking dead. However unlike their fellow famous monsters such as vampires, mummies and werewolves, zombies don't really have a strong literary tradition, with no distinguished equivalent such as Dracula or Lot No. 249. And while it's true that Richard Matheson's I Am Legend was a huge influence on George Romero's creation of the modern zombie in Night of the Living Dead, this seminal novel is clearly vampire fiction and its impact on Romero's movie comes more from its 1964 movie version The Last Man On Earth. Hence arguably the first real bona fide classics of zombie literature are Max Brooks' World War Z and Robert Kirkman's ongoing The Walking Dead comics.
But since the flesh-eating dead have been invading our screens in ever-increasing numbers in recent years, there have been a whole slew of books aiming to steal the up-for-grabs crown of best zombie novel. But the reason we don't yet have a revered canon of zombie literature is the fact that while shambling dead holocausts work very well on screen, they seem to be a trickier proposition to pull off in print. Possibly because the iconic gore of zombie movies doesn't have the same impact on the page or perhaps because zombies are mute and unintelligent and so make for very poor villains on the page. Certainly a major challenge so far for zombie fiction is telling a tale that isn't merely rehashing Romero and Fulci's seminal movies in print.
However into this still wide-open arena gamely steps genre veteran Tim Lebbon and Hammer books. And I am sure it will come as no surprise at all to learn that from the opening premise outlined in the synopsis above, that there is a full-scale zombie outbreak at the heart of Coldbrook. Lebbon takes us through an exciting and visceral onslaught on the infected dead as it inevitably break out of the secure bunkers of the Coldbrook facility and begins to sweep across America. While most zombie cinema takes place in confined spaces usually due to the constraints of a low budget, the freedom of a novel allows Lebbon a massive canvas to paint an apocalypse upon. In swiftly paced and often blood drenched prose, we see city after city fall and the world descend into a state of carnage and chaos.
But while Coldbrook presents a very gripping fall of civilisation under a zomboid plague, there is more to his novel than the usual world overrun with the walking dead scenarios. Mr Lebbon has some cunning twists in the tale that prevent it from being merely a Romero clone in prose. To begin with, rather than than the usual the-world's-stuffed-let's-find-some-safe-refuge-from-those-dead-folks-trying-to-eat-us routine, we have some folks actually trying to pull society's fat from the fire and find a cure to the apocalyptic infection. And this search and rescue of someone who is actually naturally immune to the transworld contagion provides a more interesting narrative thrust than the usual band of survivors being chomped one by one. Furthermore, while I can't go into details for fear of unleashing spoiler viruses, the most intriguing aspect of Coldbrook is that the dimensional portal that the Patient Zero shambles out of isn't just a plot device to unleash a zombifying plague...
Yes, there are definite strong SF elements in this particular zombie holocaust. And while purists may feel that these plot elements dilute the essence of the dead overrunning the world scenario, there is still plenty of top quality survivors-struggling-against-ravening-hordes action to satisfy most zombie devotees. However the SF twists do significantly spice up all the well-handled action, adding a refreshing layer of intrigue to the dual walking dead antics. For unlike most other zombie fiction, in Coldbrook the origins of the necrotic plague are slowly revealed; the practical upshot of which is that as well as the gripping action you have a very original and equally compelling mystery being unravelled chapter by chapter.
All in all Coldbrook is a very ambitious novel, with Mr Lebbon pulling off the difficult trick of injecting some fresh life into the often plodding zombie genre while still delivering all the mayhem you could want from zombies overrunning the world. And as this is published by Hammer, one can only hope there's plans afoot to bring it to the screen at some point soon!