Book Review: God of the Dead

Over the long weekend, I read God of the Dead by Max Denno.  It’s a zombie novel presented like a movie’s screenplay.  Mr. Denno calls this “Script-Novel” format.  Its core innovation seems to be the ability to “tell” and not “show.”  Thus, when we meet a new character, in addition to describing his or her appearance, we also learn background facts (likes and dislikes, history, etc.) that could not be instantly comported by an actor onscreen.

God of the Dead follows an Italian-American Mafioso in Pennsylvania named Vinnie as he navigates not only the world of small-time crime, but geopolitical events that send the world racing toward WW III.  And also, there are zombies.

I think you’ll like God of the Dead:

  • If you like a slow-build.  (The book is 228 pages long.  Zombies are not mentioned until page 44, and do not appear until around page 100.)
  • If you like the world-is-ending/survivalist aspect of zombie stories.  (Are you cynical about the ability of the federal government to respond effectively in a crisis?  Do you like scenarios where people who are “into guns” have vast, vast advantages over those who aren’t?  Do you find scenarios of war between nations compelling?  If so, Max Denno has you covered.)
  • If you like characters who talk in accents.  (When I first encountered the phonetically-spelled Youngstown, PA vernacular in which many of the characters speak, I was like: “This is gonna get old fast.”  But the thing was, it didn’t!  Denno does a really good job of making characters speak distinctly and distinctively, without it becoming something you stumble over.)

There were many things I liked personally about God of the Dead.  I won’t spoil it, but the first appearance of a zombie was incredibly well done.  Other scenes are artfully described and very effective.

Was God of the Dead perfect?  No.  I had a few criticisms too. 

Some of the sentences are long and rambling, are unnecessarily wordy, presume a deep knowledge of (and/or near-pornographic appreciation for) firearms, and employ tense shifts.  Some do all of these at once, and you get sentences like:

Also on the desk is a bust of Shakespeare, an Italian-made desk lamp, VINNIE’s Beretta Cougar .40 caliber compact pistol with gold-inlaid engraving, and his Smith & Wesson model 36 Chief Special snub-nose revolver with deep blue finish, which he just removed from a holster hidden inside his pants. 

Another criticism is that when the narrative wends toward the satirical, it moves away from realistic renderings of its targets, and veers toward the comical and buffoonish.  For example, when moving to criticize wealthy elites (who lack the correct reaction to an end-of-the-world zombie scenario), we get exchanges like:


Oh Lord, how would I ever get my pedicure in a bomb shelter?


I hope they don’t cancel Pilates tomorrow because of all this!

This exchange didn’t ring true for me, mostly because rich idiots who deserve to be eaten by zombies don’t go around saying: “Hey, I’m a rich idiot who deserves to be eaten by zombies!”  (Which, more or less, Denno has them doing.)

But these criticisms aside:  If you like world-ending zombie scenarios, appreciate a slow build, don’t mind long sentences, and really, really like descriptions of guns, you may find God of the Dead a very rewarding experience.  To learn more about it, click here.

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