It’s been a few years since Howard Odentz’s novel Dead (a Lot) came out. It turned out to be a nice surprise in a genre that can sometimes be a
It’s been a few years since Howard Odentz’s novel Dead (a Lot) came out. It turned out to be a nice surprise in a genre that can sometimes be a bit predictable. There are only so many ways you can present the zombie apocalypse, after all, and it’s easy to think just about everything has been done. Of course, the same could be said about stories in general. In the end, what makes them different is the way they draw us into their characters.
Since Dead (a Lot) in 2013, Odentz has been busy, writing and releasing two other horror novels, Bloody, Bloody Apple and Little Killers A to Z. It had been about three years since I’d read Dead (a Lot), so for continuity’s sake, I decided to re-visit it before tackling Wicked Dead. I’m glad I did, because it made me realize how Odentz hasn’t missed a beat. In fact, it’s like he never left.
In a nutshell, the Dead (a Lot) series takes place in a world much like ours except for the roaming hordes of zombies, which are known in the story as Poxers. This name is a reference to Necropoxy, the human-created disease that brings on the apocalypse. Some people are immune to the virus, and, as might be expected, scientists are interested in finding and studying them. The premise is certainly interesting, but what makes the series so readable is Odentz’s masterful character development and brilliant pacing.
Wicked Dead picks up right where Dead (a Lot) left off, and our main character Tripp Light’s narration is just as sharp, witty, and engaging as it ever was. Most of the characters have returned for this one. Tripp and his twin sister Trina are back, as are Tripp’s sort of girlfriend Prianka and her brother Sanjay. Trina’s boyfriend Jimmy is here again as well, and now the twins’ mom and dad are on hand.
There are a few other new players, the most notable being an elderly bus driver named Dorcas Duke. Without revealing too much, I’ll say that Tripp’s scenes with Dorcas are some of the finest in the novel. They’re funny, scary, and touching. Humor and horror are two of the most difficult things a writer can pull off, but Odentz makes it seem like a breeze in Wicked Dead, many times in the same scene.
At the risk of generalizing, if Dead (a Lot) was a story of searching and staying alive, Wicked Dead is a tale about being on the run and growing up. And yes, it’s still about staying alive. Come on, it’s the zombie apocalypse. Above all, it’s fast-paced, and it keeps the reader flipping pages, probably way past his bedtime. Not that I would know anything about that, mind you.
I’m just over here waiting on the next book.
Continuing in the creepy tradition of his earlier books, the novels Dead (a Lot) and Bloody Bloody Apple, Howard Odentz’s new effort, Little Killers A to Z, is a project that may seem more innocent than what’s come before, at least superficially. It’s no children’s book, though. Once you start reading, in fact, you start to realize just how expertly this author is able to plumb the depths of weirdness and horror.
Each story in this collection introduces us to a new character, with rhyming titles like “A is for Andy Who Watches His Dad” and “B is for Boris, and Rifka, and Vlad,” then, almost immediately, we discover the terror that lies beneath the surface. For instance, in “O is for Oz Who Has Piss Poor Genetics,” there’s a young boy whose controlling mother is determined to correct all the biological disadvantages he’s inherited; “M is for Maura Who Builds a Partition” gives us a girl who really, really wants to be alone; and in my personal favorite, “E is for Emmett Who’s Always Behind,” we meet a boy who just can’t seem to co-exist with his twin brother, no matter how he tries.
Essentially, Little Killers A to Z is a book of stories about children who do bad, bad things. Anyone who’s read horror or watched scary movies knows there are few things more terrifying than creepy kids, and Odentz takes this premise and runs with it for all its worth. For lovers of the genre, there’s a bit of everything here: killers, stalkers, chasers, revenge seekers, apocalypse survivors, evil twins, serial killers, supernatural critters, you name it. This collection employs many of the go-to tools of the horror story, but it manages to defy expectations at every turn. And be warned, it’s habit-forming.
Some of the stories in Little Killers A to Z will leave you with your mouth hanging open, a few will make you laugh (even as you hope no one hears you), while others have endings that will immediately make you want to re-read them. One or two just might even give you an excuse to mosey by the front door and check the lock. (You know, just in case.) And even when you think you know what’s going to happen, it turns out you really don’t.
Edgar Allan Poe once said that the ideal short story should be readable within one sitting. The tales in Little Killers A to Z fits this standard perfectly, with one significant drawback: You won’t want to stop at just one. Trust me on this.
As we make our way around the sun once
more, I can’t help but think of all the things
I promised myself to do last time: Always
explain my jokes, call everyone I meet “bro,”
refer to all food as “Chinese food,” and wear
my pajamas to the gym. It’s been a good year.
Book reviewers have a tough job, you guys. They have to read books and, you know, review them. It’s not as sexy as it sounds, and the truth is sometimes they get tired and become not so good at coming up with original words to say. And then, occasionally, the book they’re reviewing doesn’t quite cut the mustard.
But they have to write something, right? Perhaps something like these blurbs.
“Reading this book was a viable alternative to being fitted for adult braces.”
“This will likely not be the only book you ever read.”
“You will undoubtedly read this after having read something else.”
“Reading it occupied time I could have spent doing other things.”
“Of all the books I’ve ever read, this was the most recent.”
“This was a book I apparently read.”
“Once I started reading the book, I couldn’t put it down. It was covered in industrial strength maple syrup.”
Need a little help? she asks. It’s obvious she cares.
Otherwise, she wouldn’t be willing to talk to me in
such candid terms, so confidentially, sprawled
across the bed, walking on an empty beach, or
preparing a Caesar salad in a shiny, well-applianced
kitchen. Some guys have this problem, she says.
Before I pop any pills, I have a few questions.
Does anyone know she’s talking to me about this?
Whose house is she in? Hers, or does it belong to
someone else? It’s not mine, I can tell you that.
Trust me, I’d know if I had a house that nice.
And I don’t live close to any deserted beaches.
To close the sale, she ticks off potential side effects,
trying to make me feel better should there be some
type of structural mishap, maybe the heart kicks off
before its time, or the liver announces a sudden,
unexpected retirement. These things won’t happen,
she says but still admits there’s a chance they could.
Research has shown, it turns out, that the old machinery
doesn’t always work the way it once did. One thousand
people surveyed confirmed they’d had problems getting
that old spark going. A double-blind study also proved
that on every occasion, expectations exceeded results.
Need a little help? she asks. Who doesn’t, these days?
my happiness is an earthquake
that comes on without warning
unstoppable under the utter
power of a planet at war with
itself at first it feels expected
useful as though everything is
suddenly the way it needs to be
a trifle shaky yes but barely
noticeable and nothing we can’t
work through but that’s before
the earth begins to slope or at
least that’s how it looks to us
and turns the world downside up
around it’s no longer natural this
unwelcome onset of seismic bliss
and finally at day’s end it departs
as it arrived leaving shaken bodies
and broken remains in its shade
The stone rests snug in the narrow neck
of this muddy stream, borne downhill
days ago by a fateful landslide, as it
plunged down the tilt of the hill, an
eyeless kamikaze. Since then, the rock
has toiled in silence, gathering earth,
grass, and roots, restraining sodden
water that yearns for nothing more than
to answer its destiny, immersing all within
its reach. Now, as the stone nears the end
of its work, the dirty water has its way
and begins to spill over the banks, spreading
across the fields like a mud red soup.
After dusk tonight, as the sun sets,
I look off into the eastern sky, out
across what was once New Mexico
or Colorado, and watch the glow of
the last ships leaving Earth. Like a
cluster of suns, their engines flare
into life as humanity at long last
renounces its lease on this world.
We knew someone would have to
stay. After all, it took us six years to
fill and lift just those few ships into
orbit, and they timed the last departures
down to within weeks. Now, the rest
of us have all the time we need, as
long as we don’t require any more
than we have until the end happens.
I wonder if they can feel me watching
them as they start out across our solar
system, gathering the speed required
to traverse such great time and space?
Do they feel any regret at leaving so
many us down here, bound to the earth,
without even their slim chance at a
longer life and a new place to live it?
On certain summer days, my cousin and
I would sneak away to a river behind my
grandmother’s house, the biting Alabama
sun driving us toward its mucky banks.
My job was to watch out for the moccasins,
who would’ve rather had us intrude anywhere
but there, as we tramped through that frigid
waterway they called home. Once, too late
to warn my eager partner in crime, I saw
a twist of brown as it zigzagged across the
water. Both of us watched, numb and frozen,
as the cottonmouth, that toothy assassin of
man and beast, made his way down the icy
stream, past my bobbing cousin, pursuing, we
later told ourselves, a less formidable quarry.