Saturday, 23 July 2011

The Unwashed Dead

The dead are coming home in this dark tale of the ‘great unwashed’

Scream? I nearly went to Bradford. Mark Cantrell finds there’s an eerie air of the familiar to Ian Woodhead’s The Unwashed Dead, an enjoyable zombie horror that transports him back to the city he once called home…

FOR all that I enjoy a good zombie romp, I often feel a certain sense of dismay at the extent to which they are taking over the shelves of my local Waterstones, but that’s zombies for you.

Zombie novels are clearly much the same: they’ve got a tendency to spread like a plague and the publishing industry has most definitely been bitten. (And we all know what that means, don’t we?)

So, given that intro, you might think it bodes ill for the zombie-slaughter-fest that is The Unwashed Dead, by Ian Woodhead – well, you’d be wrong. This is a cracking novel that fully deserves to find a place on the shelves of said bookstore. Certainly, I’d be happy to see some of those bandwagon titles pushed aside to make room for this welcome addition to the genre.

Woodhead is clearly a talented writer and it shows. The novel is an action-packed ride into zombie mayhem, featuring plenty of gore – without ever going over the top – and the pacing is spot on. The narration and description fully immerse you in events while the dialogue and interplay is so crackingly realistic that it’s almost like you’re part of the crowd.

Simply put, there are no cardboard cut-outs in this novel. The characters are fully fleshed-out, succulently prepared for the zombies to take a bite, and one way or another you will care about their fate, even if a good few of them are not the sort many of us might savour having as a neighbour.

The action takes place in the fictional Breakspear Gardens estate, “the roughest housing estate in the north of England”, populated by “smackheads, car thieves, burglars, violent ex-offenders, the estate had them all”, as the author puts it in the blurb. “The residents thought they had seen every type of subversive human behaviour, but even they weren’t prepared when the dead began to walk."

Nor was this reader quite prepared for the eerily familiar feel about Breakspear Gardens – all of a sudden I was back home in Bradford. Now, that’s scary. All the same, the revelation added a little frisson of nostalgia to the enjoyment, as I found myself caught in the fray of this gripping frenzy of the undead, though a certain latent civic attachment compels me to point out that the real Bradford isn’t infested with zombie hordes – well, not until the pubs and clubs shut their doors, but that’s another story.

Back to the plot in hand and one doesn’t need a familiarity with Bradford, or indeed Northern towns and their housing estates, to appreciate the human drama and the zombie carnage that Woodhead’s novel presents. Given his own description, the casual browser might entertain a certain flash of glee at the prospect of a hoard of chavs and chavettes being torn limb from limb; they might even go so far as to uncharitably suggest it impossible to tell zombie from victim. They’ll be in for a disappointment, then, because there’s not a chav in sight.

Sure, the folks who live on Breakspear Gardens might be a little rough and ready, at ease with the shady side of life, and there are plenty of downright thugs among their number, but there’s not a caricature or a stereotype in sight. The author has presented its inhabitants in a kind of rough and ready realism that shows them warts and all, but for all that very much fully-rounded characters.

So, expect to be taken in by Woodhead’s characters, and be moved by their battle for survival as the easy familiarity of their everyday life is torn apart by the neighbours. Some will emerged unscathed, if not unaffected by their ordeal, at novel’s end, while the rest are zombie meat. Well, that kind of goes with the beaten track, but Woodhead has brought a refreshing revitalisation to a genre that has all but gnawed itself down to its undead bones.

The Unwashed Dead is a thrilling addition to the zombie gore-fest, and even if gore is not your thing, it’s a bold jaunt into horror that won’t disappoint. This is biting zombie action that will leave you craving more.

Welcome to Bradford!

The Unwashed Dead

Mark Cantrell,
22 May 2011

Copyright © May 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Category: REVIEWS



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