Title: The Dead Run
Author: Adam Mansbach
Publisher/Publication Date: Harper Voyager, pub. date September 24, 2013
While I do harbor a deep and abiding love for zombies, I don’t typically go for horror novels. I read R.L. Stine, Christopher Pike and all that other fluffy crap when I was younger but somehow I never got around to graduating to actual horror as I got older. In the last couple of years I’ve stumbled across a couple of things here and there that strike my fancy(Joe Hill in particular) but I’ve never been motivated to search out new horror novels. So when I pulled The Dead Run out of my swag bag from Harper Collins I was fairly skeptical about it. And I will be totally honest and admit that it took a fair bit of talking to myself to add it into the rotation.
At which point I promptly read it in two days despite a busy weekend at GenCon.
The premise of the book is pretty easy to follow. Our main character Jess Galvan is offered his freedom from a Mexican jail if he agrees to run a package across the border. Of course, the fact that he’s being given this bargain by some creepy god-like figure living in the basement of the prison and that the package is suitably supernatural, this is obviously not going to end well. Tied up in all of this, but unbeknownst to Galvan, a number of girls have gone missing and evil is pretty much running rampant. Galvan accepts the deal and sets off across the desert with five other criminals who have been chosen as his companions. I’ll stop there to avoid spoiling any major plot points.
So, my favorite thing about this book is that there aren’t any really good characters. Everyone in the book is either a little bit morally gray or just completely bloody evil. Morally gray is an area that I enjoy in a character because I think it adds a lot of realism to a book, even one that is heavy on the supernatural. It’s hard to be wholly “good” in the world. We can either follow the rules or we can follow a more personal code of honor. Neither is a perfect option and a lot of this book is about watching Jess Galvan try to figure out how to play by the rules of the game he’s been dragged in to or play by the rules of his conscious. To me, that’s the most interesting portion of the story and I would have liked significantly more depth to all the characters, not just Galvan. I understand why this isn’t always possible though and there’s enough moving the plot along to make it a good read without the extra character development. There were also a couple of plot points that I would have liked to see more of as well, but as the book is already close to 300 pages I’m not super surprised that some things had to be glossed over. Not everyone wants to read books that weigh more than a small child.
All in all, it’s a good read. Not overly terrifying so more enjoyable for a wider audience. There is violence throughout the book but nothing close to the splatterpunk levels you see in some novels. And the book doesn’t need excessive terror or gore to stand so I’m glad it wasn’t shoved in randomly. The end leaves an opening for a sequel, but I think this is one that I would prefer to see remain a stand alone.