Right out of the gate, Ronald Kelly makes a point about zombies I’d never thought of before—wherever a pack of rotting corpses roams, a kettle of buzzards is sure to follow. Makes sense, just as it makes sense that savvy survivors would watch for buzzards, using their presence as a signal to avoid areas of potential trouble.
It’s one of a couple of innovative ideas Kelly brings to what is otherwise a pretty straightforward, traditional zombie tale. The Buzzard Zone follows the tried-and-true pattern employed by much of today’s zombie fiction, including a certain long-running television series. We meet a group of survivors and follow them from place to place, watching as their numbers swell with new members (many of them barely introduced before they’re eaten); watching as they settle into a new place and enjoy some brief moments of normalcy before their temporary home is overrun; watching as they encounter familiar characters like The Scientist Who Knows Why This Is Happening, and The Cheerfully Insane Military Man who is using the end of the world as an excuse to act on his most violent impulses.
Now, I realize that may come across as completely negative, and that’s not how I intend it. Personally, I’m experiencing some zombie fatigue, and have been for quite some time. That’s why I was so excited about the buzzard thing, and about Kelly’s unique explanation for what is causing and perpetuating the animation of the dead. I thought these new twists would invigorate the subject matter for me; unfortunately, those things largely fade into the background to make way for narrow escape scenes and flesh chomping.
Fortunately, narrow escape scenes and flesh chomping are things I enjoy…in, uh, a fictional sense, of course….and Kelly is a skilled hand at bringing them to life. He cut his teeth during the Zebra/paperback horror heyday, after all, and it’s that much-loved aesthetic that he’s playing with here. He keeps a relentless pace, and doesn’t pull punches when it comes to the wet work.
The novel is set largely in Kelly’s home state of Tennessee, and he gleefully rips through the countryside, taking down a few Southern landmarks along the way. He also drops in a couple of inside references that indie horror fans are going to lap up.
The Buzzard Zone is a quick, fun read; one that maybe didn’t completely cure my own zombie blues, but which should serve as a fine fix for those undead junkies who just can’t get enough. Yeah, the characterization falls short in a few instances, and the dialogue doesn’t always ring true; but, taken for what it is—an old-school zombie novel penned with obvious glee by an old-school pulp horror master—it’s more than worth a few hours of your time.