Steve the Zombie
by Stephen Wayne
Genre: Mystery, Thriller & Suspense / Horror
Print Length: 162 pages
Reviewed by Erin Britton
A zombie detective hunts for the truth behind a deadly plague while trying to keep his unnatural appetite under control.
A delightful splatterfest of a mashup of zombie-horror and crime fiction, Stephen Wayne’s Steve the Zombie presents an apocalyptic scenario, with a seemingly unrelentingly bleak outcome, and somehow still manages to find humor and a touch of hope in the situation. In focusing on an individual (not quite a) zombie’s perspective on a dystopian future—including his attempts to survive, thrive, and keep himself occupied—Wayne delivers a story that proves a fresh approach to the undead.
When the perplexed and disorientated Steve regains consciousness in the midst of a rampaging zombie horde, he feels both a deep sense of shock and a strange sense of belonging. To his disgust, he quickly realizes that he is “part of the horde, an appalling spectacle amidst lifeless humans and terrifying creatures flooding the streets.” As the cavalcade of zombies continue their devastating march through the city streets, Steve attempts to mentally piece together what’s happened to him.
As his body automatically propels him along with the horde, his mind fights to retain his humanity and to remember his past. Just as the zombies wreak havoc on all they encounter, the disconnect between the two parts of Steve makes for quite the conflict: “The anguished cries of men and women, external manifestations of the internal torment I endure, reverberate through the air as death engulfs the world.” However, painfully and confusingly, the memories do start to return.
First he remembers his girlfriend, Sarah, who he knows he needs to protect. Then he remembers his career as a police detective, which saw him investigating the first cases of unlikely civilians committing brutal murders and then snacking on the corpses. It made for a messy business, and initially at least, those who sought to defend themselves from the attacks were blamed for using excessive violence. Finally, he remembers a troubling realization he had about some of the zombies:
“Their skin, though pallid and marred, seems untouched by the gnashing teeth of the horde. This disturbing realization implies that these individuals must have been contaminated prior to any physical attack. This chilling revelation suggests that the virus had been spreading through more insidious, unseen methods, broadening its scope beyond the domain of the overtly violent.”
Now that he’s somewhat in control again, can Steve disentangle himself from the horde, find Sarah, and maybe find a way to save the rest of humanity from the undead plague? And can he accomplish all that while avoiding the zombie-hunting gangs of surviving normals who are looking to introduce his face to the wrong end of a shotgun?
The action comes thick, fast, and gory from the outset of Steve the Zombie, as the unfortunate Steve finds himself in the truly horrific situation of being a zombie with a conscience. It’s a short, fast-paced novel that progresses in time with the zombie rampage through the city, with the disorientating combination of Steve’s memories and hallucinations breaking up the endless hunt for flesh and fleshing out (ahem) the backstory. While all this unfolds, Stephen Wayne does a great job of portraying just how quickly and completely society can crumble.
Aside from the protagonist being a zombie with a difference, the most unique aspect of the story is Wayne’s decision to have zombies and humans coexisting, at least for a time, with the humans doing regular things like going to restaurants and clubs while the zombies are simultaneously tearing through the city looking for brains and pretty much any other body parts to munch on. The fact that most people don’t want to let a little thing like a zombie apocalypse stop them having fun seems scarily plausible.
Relatedly, during the early days of the contagion, there’s also the aspect of certain pressure groups advocating for the rights of zombies—“Zombie lives matter!”, “Don’t discriminate against the undead!”, “Justice for the sufferers!”, and “Equal treatment for the infected!”—although they might be meant to be referring to people with mental health conditions rather than to actual zombies. The facts aren’t quite clear here, nor is the wider political/philosophical point that Wayne is trying to make.
Wayne’s writing style is witty and immersive, with Steve’s conflicting viewpoints being highlighted to great effect. The action scenes are particularly well done, as is the worldbuilding and the characterizations of the zombies: “Their movements are jerky and uncoordinated, their eyes are bloodshot, devoid of humanity, and their irises emit an eerie orange glow.” The dialogue isn’t always quite so convincing, and the characters other than Steve could have benefited from some further development.
Throughout Steve the Zombie, Wayne excels at balancing moments of genuine creepiness and bloody danger with lighthearted humor and wry observations about human foibles. The interactions between Steve and some of the humans he encounters, both strangers and those he knew in his former life, as well as his attempts to blend into a rapidly collapsing society, provide many comical and touching moments.
Steve the Zombie is a must-read for fans of the zombie genre who are looking for something a little different, particularly those who also appreciate detective fiction. With its blend of horror, humor, and heart, Steve’s saga as a zombie certainly provokes questions and leaves a lasting impression.
Thank you for reading Erin Britton’s book review of Steve the Zombie by Stephen Wayne! If you liked what you read, please spend some more time with us at the links below.