Review – “Entombed” by Brian Keene

Review – “Entombed” by Brian Keene

I’m a Brian Keene fan.  No getting around it.  As I remarked in a previous review – “His writing is like an ice-cold beer on a hot day – it goes down smooth and always satisfies.” He’s on my must have list – I’ll pre-order each new release on Amazon, I’ll comb the specialty stores for out of print anthologies, and I’ll shell out the dinero for each small press limited edition. (My only regret is that I missed out on the “lifetime subscriptions” he offered last year.  Oh well, you can’t win them all…).  So, when I heard his latest release “Entombed” would finally be available, but only as a limited edition from Camelot Books, I fired up ye olde Internet and placed my order (you can still snag a copy here).  I’m happy to say copy #151 now has a home on my living room bookshelf.  It was money well spent.  Well spent indeed.

Entombed” is the follow-up to Keene’s zombie novel “The Dead Sea”.  It’s a sequel in the sense that it takes place in the same world.  The good news is, you don’t have to have read “Dead Sea” to enjoy this story.  It’s been a few years since I’ve read it, but my rustiness on the details didn’t deter from my enjoyment of “Entombed” at all. (If you haven’t read “Dead Sea”, it’s just been re-released by Deadite Press in an updated version.  You can find it here.)

The world has been ravaged by “Hamelin’s Revenge” – a virus that leads to the reanimation of the dead.  These aren’t the intelligent, invader zombies, led by Ob from Keene’s “The Rising” – these are more traditional, mindless zombies.  As humanity has struggled to cope with the zombie outbreak, 25 people have holed up inside an abandoned military bunker beneath a resort hotel.  They are safe from the zombies outside, but they are far from safe.

The tone for the story is set from the very first line:

I was sitting in the movie room, watching an episode of Aqua Teen Hunger Force for the twentieth time and talking to the dismembered head of Dwight D. Eisenhower, when the rest of the group decided that we should all start eating each other.

That’s Pete talking – a recently divorced former hotel employee, and one of the 25 survivors in the bunker.  It’s a tough road that life laid out before him, leading to his time in the bunker.  His divorce put him in a dark place and the zombie uprising only served to make that place darker.  As Pete struggles with the isolation, hunger, and social minefield that defines existence in the bunker, he slowly (or maybe not so slowly) begins to slip into a madness that is truly terrifying in its utter plausibility.

As the refugees make the decision to resort to cannibalism to survive, it’s clear that Pete has missed the vital empire building going on under his nose.  A man named Chuck has taken physiological and functional control of the group and decided that Pete is the prime candidate for this week’s “blue plate special”.

Pete has to decide, quickly, what he is willing to do to survive.  That decision and its consequences form the nucleus of the story, and the central genius of what Keene has crafted.  He’s created a compelling and gripping human drama, as well as an examination of the limits of moral equivalency.  As Pete himself says at one point:

A line from Scarface ran through my head – Al Pacino asking, “Who’s the bad guy?”  Well it wasn’t me.  I wasn’t the bad guy in this situation.  Neither were the zombies, for that matter.  The zombies were nothing more than window dressing.  Background noise – a catalyst that got us to this point.  No, the zombies didn’t matter.  The real bad guys were my fellow survivors.  Chuck and his people, as he’d called them.  They were the real villains.

It’s this ability by Pete to rationalize his actions that lights the way to the true horror in the story.  This is a dark book, no question.  One of the things that makes it so dark is precisely the fact that the zombies are just window dressing.  They are a violent reality of the world our survivors find themselves in, but they don’t actually perpetrate most of the violence in the story.  The survivors themselves are the engines for the destruction we witness.  It’s a claustrophobic and uncomfortably believable situation that illuminates a world where is not us against them, it’s us against us.

“Entombed” was a disturbing and disturbingly entertaining read.  There’s blood, there’s gore, there’s death by forklift, and yes, there are zombies.  But underneath it all is a searing look at what people are really capable of when they think they have no alternatives and no way out.  It’s enough to make you pause and think.  It’s enough to make you realize that sometimes monsters aren’t really the monsters we should fear after all.  To paraphrase on old saying – we have met the zombies, and they are us.

* There is a bonus novella included with “Entombed” – “White Fire”.  It originally appeared in an anthology called “And Hell Followed With Them”, and offers a passing mention of our old pal Ob from “The Rising”.  In a strange bit of synchronicity, I actually picked up a copy of “And Hell Followed With Them” a few months ago at Dark Delicacies out in Burbank.  (If you haven’t checked out Dark Delicacies, do yourself a favor and give them a visit.  It’s worth your time just to talk books with Del – but I digress.)  I’ve gone from never have read “White Fire”, to reading it twice in the space of 3 months.  It was great both times.

My Favorite Words from “Entombed”

It was like watching 9/11 or Hurricane Katrina or one of those other disasters – you knew it was happening and you felt connected to it, but at the same time, it seemed so far away.  Bad things always happen to other people.  Not to you.  Not until the bad things show up at your front door unannounced and come inside and stay for a while.

The dead are determined sons of bitches.

It would have been a hell of a thing if he’d died of a heart attack before our fellow survivors had a chance to kill and eat him properly.

There was a feeling in my stomach, a sensation I’d only felt once before in my life on the day my wife of eight years, Alyssa, told me she was leaving and that she wanted a divorce.  I sat on the couch that day, wanting desperately to flee, to run away from her, to get out of the range of the things she was saying, because if I couldn’t hear her say them, then they wouldn’t come true – but I was unable to move.

That had always been the inherent danger of the digital age.  Once a civilization’s culture became electronic, that culture lasted only as long as the power was on.

You can read my review of “Darkness on the Edge of Town” by Brian Keene here.

You can read my review of “A Gathering of Crows” by Brian Keene here.

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