By Ryan Brown
I've never actually read a book featuring zombies before, but I have watched a few zombie movies like "Night of the Living Dead," "Shaun of the Dead," and "Zombieland" so I am familiar with the subject. All of those movies I'd say are better than "Play Dead," a book I'd give 4 stars for the concept and 2 stars for the execution. A lot of potential was left in the locker room instead of on the field, not to mention an overall pedestrian writing style. While the book is easy to read and not really terrible, it could have been a lot better too.
The story is about football--and zombies. In Texas there's almost nothing the people care about more than football, so that the people of Killington (pun intended?) are crazy about their team even though they're about as good as the Detroit Lions. Things seem to be finally going their way with the emergence of quarterback Cole Logan, who has the team one win away from the district finals against the hated Elmwood Badgers. The Badgers have made a successful run in large part because their team is more doped up than the East German Olympic team.
Everything's bigger in Texas, including the pranks played on the opposing team. Instead of stealing the Killington mascot, the Badgers attack Cole with a hatchet and then run the team bus off the road, seeming to kill everyone but Cole (who wasn't on the bus) and Coach Hickham, who managed to escape out a window. That's where the zombies come in, thanks to a football-crazed witch. From there it's down to a showdown between the zombie Killington team and doping Elmwood team.
The game itself is almost an afterthought, crammed into the last 30 pages of the book. The other 310 set up the bus accident, the zombies, and the game itself. Most of this is devoted to the emerging romance between Cole and ace school reporter Savannah Hickham, also the coach's daughter.
In the hands of a far more gifted author--like Stephen King maybe--this situation could have turned out to be much more interesting. As it is, the characters are stock and the Killington players have no personality BEFORE becoming zombies. Even the name "Cole Logan" seems like something pulled from an Action Movie Cliche guidebook.
In the hands of a gifted satirist the Texan love of football, various football cliches, and so forth could have been exploited to better advantage than they are here. There is some of that, but not enough to make this a truly great book. That's too bad because Brown has a fun concept but he's the wrong author to pull it off effectively.
I mentioned the pedestrian writing earlier and overall I felt this was the kind of story I'd see in an online writing critique group. One particular issue was the author's heavy use of dialog to the point he actually describes Savannah through dialog thusly: "Oh, she's a doll. Red hair. Green eyes. That adorable figure." That just made me shake my head sadly. For one it's unbelievable dialog and for another it's just plain sloppy writing. Probably the only worse way of describing a character would be to use a police APB.
Anyway, this is an OK book, not a great one. It is light beach/airplane reading that seems destined to be made into a movie with a Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart lookalike in the Cole and Savannah roles.
That is all.