Permuted Press has been making quite a name for themselves in the genre of zombie fiction and their latest release is Kim Paffenroth’s “Dying to Live.” The problem I have had with some zombie novels in the past is that the authors tend to set their sights a bit too high. While trying to tell a world-spanning tale of a zombie outbreak they often try to do too much and forget the smaller, personal stories. The best zombie stories/films were those that concentrated on the smaller picture, such as “Night of the Living Dead.” Thankfully Paffenroth does not fall into this trap. He gives us one small, yet very appetizing piece of the zombie pie.
Paffenroth doesn’t waste a lot of time explaining the zombie outbreak, preferring to jump right into the introduction of the main character, Jonah Caine, who has been surviving on his own since the catastrophe took place. Jonah is a plain, everyman…a former English professor at a community college, who has been resourceful enough to stay alive but grown weary by the stress of being on the run. A risky foray into a city to find food leads to Jonah meeting a small settlement of survivors who have turned a museum into their own fortress. The settlement’s leader is Jack Lawson, your typical former military man but the most interesting character is the settlement’s spiritual leader, Milton. In Paffenroth’s zombie world, animals can also become zombies. When one of these undead animals bites Milton, he becomes essentially a human/zombie hybrid, carrying the stink and rot of death, yet not actually dying. Further, other zombies seem to fear Milton and are repelled when he walks among them, a useful ability indeed.
These survivors live in relative safety in their stronghold, leaving only for quick raids for food and supplies in the city. Jonah has to prove himself with a dangerous initiation rite by going on one of these raids. It is during one of these raids that they encounter another survivor, living alone with his newborn son in what turns into a harrowing rescue. With no real threat to them, they decide to go to the threat, by investigating smoke seen at the far end of the city. It’s here where the survivors face the real horrors…a state correctional facility whose inmates have secured their own fortress.
“Dying to Live” is a solid, and often terrifying novel. The confrontations with the zombies keep are slam-bang thrill rides with something lurking behind each dark corner. The only real problem with the story is the last quarter of the book when Jonah and a few others encounter the prison inmates. Paffenroth ultimately made his characters too safe and secure in their museum home. The zombies were completely unable to mount any kind of a threat to them in their makeshift museum fortress. Paffenroth had to concoct a more serious threat than the legions of zombies themselves. A bit contrived, but not enough to spoil an otherwise brisk moving story with sufficient scares for any zombie fan. While I would have liked to have seen the characters developed a bit more, this is still an entertaining zombie fiction read.