Book covers


      Jack Swift: UNDEAD UNDERNEATH.      

The publicist at Red Rattle Books has said that Jack Swift has signed a deal with the publishing company that commits him to a zombie novel every year for the rest of this decade.  Zombie fans should have a warm future.  Undead Underneath is, in my opinion, the best British zombie novel ever.

The novel has the classic ingredients of zombie fiction but enough from elsewhere to remind the reader that a bigger world exists than that imagined by genre specialists.  Warriors in zombie novels and movies are obliged to battle against both the undead and other human beings.  We know the formula, the decent against the unscrupulous, and interventions from difficult to destroy monsters.

The zombies in Undead Underneath are the usual pests, more so because they nest and breed underground like rats.  They contribute to glorious stand offs and set pieces that build like an old-fashioned Hitchcock movie to a fine climax.  The humans this time, though, are different.  In Undead Underneath the conflict is between the powerful and the powerless.  Survival will depend on defeating and escaping from the elite that has created the disaster.  The political sub-text, though, is neither laboured nor obvious, and the book will appeal to both right and left wing readers.  It is no coincidence, though, that the team fighting for survival thinks that it can decide its destiny in Cumnock, the small Scottish town where Keir Hardie was born.  Keir Hardie established the British Labour Party.  Not only is a different future inevitable argues Undead Underneath.  Too many British people need one.   The impact of fate is another sub-text in the book.

These days, zombies are either sensitive dreamers or brain eaters.  The zombies in Undead Underneath like brains and have the usual appalling table manners.  But there are surprises, and how they were created neatly fits the plot and complements the roles of the interesting characters.

The TV series, The Walking Dead, was applauded because it mixed complex characters and zombie ritual.  Undead Underneath does the same but this time the zombie fighters carry no macho baggage from American frontier history.  Undead Underneath is a British zombie novel.  It may not indulge in the broad humour of Shaun of the Dead but, when people from different backgrounds are obliged to challenge the zombies, there are wry moments.  The characters may not beat their chests but, like true British cynics, they know how to deliver a sarcastic remark.  I particularly liked Nalo, the sixty two year old English-Caribbean woman, who abandons both her job and her voluntary activist work in Camden.  If the good guys are not heroic, the bad guys are not evil.  The villains are not crazed scientists and evil megalomaniacs but self-centred bureaucrats and narrow-minded careerists.  They are ordinary people.

The real thrill from the book is wondering how an ill-equipped and disunited team will prevail against the powerful.  The style, though, contributes to a satisfying read.  Those interested in detail will note the original and effective innovations in the prose.   Undead Underneath manages to satisfy zombie fans and be very different.

By Irene Keith.