City of the Dead by Brian Keene (2005): Keene’s sequel to his first novel, The Rising, is every bit as visceral, gonzo and thoughtful as that outing. Zombies have risen, but their lineage is of the Return of the Living Dead/ Evil Dead 2 variety. They talk, they think, they plan, and they use weapons. And they’re not limited to human form: everything above the level of insects rises once it dies unless its brain is sufficiently destroyed. They’re the first wave of body-possessing demons released by a particle accelerator experiment gone horribly awary, and there are trillions of them.
We follow the ragtag handful of survivors from the first novel as they try to find shelter. Or at least a few hours of uninterrupted sleep. Humanity’s last redoubt is a high-security New York highrise run by someone a lot like Donald Trump. A second wave of demons that can possess plants and insects is on its way. Things are bad.
Keene’s novels have the audacious scale and pacing of pulp apocalypses, but it’s the care taken with sympathetic (or at least empathetic) characterization that really drives the engine, making us care about characters who are doomed. There’s a greater whiff of Stephen King’s The Stand in City of the Dead than there was in The Rising — supernatural good exists and makes its presence (or at least its reasons) felt. Be warned, though: the violence is graphic and unrelenting, and there are no easy outs from the seemingly unwinnable situation Keene puts his dwindling cast of characters in. As they say in Preacher, “All hell’s a coming.” Highly recommended.