Pray to Stay Dead is a novel about zombies, so you think you know what you’re getting into from the beginning. After all, it’s ZOMBIES. You’re seen dozens of their movies and tv shows, read their books and comics, gunned down millions in games- you’ve even seen them walk the streets of cities around the world. You know everything there is to know about zombies, so why should another zombie novel interest you?.
Because Pray to Stay Dead is a revelation, one of those books that reminds you why you liked the genre in the first place.
You won’t be a believer at the start of the book, as you meet twenty three year old Coleen and her teenage brother Daniel, whose mother has just died. The stress of the funeral was a lot for them so they’re heading out on a camping trip to forget about things. Their friends pull up, a group of kids who are ready to do some drinking, smoking weed, and fucking.
You’ll roll your eyes a bit and keep reading because at least the characters are interesting, even if you know exactly where this book is going after seeing it countless times before. You might even feel a bit resentful of the author, who not only wrote a zombie novel but has crammed such an obvious slasher film plot into it.
You’re wrong. You’re so very wrong. (So was I.)
The trip is over in two brief chapters, the news about the undead rising all over the world distilled to our characters without being needessly drawn out. You’re just a witness as the friends listen to the car radio, shocked. It’s not spelled out for you- you already know what they’re hearing.
They continue their journey home and start seeing hints of things to come on the road, with absolutely no idea of the horrors that await them.
A few more important characters are introduced early on such as Reggie, a Vietnam vet turned truck driver who’s trying to get back home to see his daughter and is more wary than most because he’s a black man driving through small country towns in 1974. (Thankfully you aren’t beat over the head with the setting, it just feels natural. Expect references to Vietnam, Nixon, hippies, and the threat of the Cold War.) You’ll also meet an elderly couple that runs a gas station and grocery store near a small town. Each chapter of the book takes place in a different character’s head, which makes it that much easier to get to know them quite well and that much harder for you when people start to die.
And die they will. Our original characters eventually end up acquainted with a sociopathic giant of a man and his polygamist clan, whose survival nut fortress is the setting for much of the horror in this book. That’s actually one of the most interesting things here, as it turns out that the humans are much, much scarier than the zombies. The zombies are the slow, shambling type, the ones that are mostly ineffectual unless they start to mass. It’s mostly their mere presense that prompts all the death as the world simply can’t cope with what’s happening. Many of the humans are frightened, rattled, and in shock. The rules of society don’t apply anymore and they quickly try to adapt, doing all kinds of crazy things in the process. Even the “good” characters here do horrible things out of necessity.
You’ll plow through Pray to Stay Dead, as it’s definitely a page turner. Forget not being able to put it down- the book simply won’t let you. Violence happens frequently and with nary a warning, and it’s hard not to read it with wide eyes, feeling a tiny bit of the shock that the main characters are experiencing and dreading each page you turn. You don’t want to know how much worse it can possibly get… but you will.
The author of this incredible piece of work, Mason James Cole, actually goes by a pseudonym. His bio claims that he is a conservative type living in Utah who doesn’t want his friends and family to know he has these dark, dark thoughts. You’ll understand his reasoning completely after reading the book, because there are chapters that threaten to rise to near-Ed Lee levels of sexual violence and horror. Rape, murder, dismemberment, torture, this one’s got it all, and it can be tough to get through at parts. At the same time Cole has an easy prose style that flows quite smoothly and beautifully, and seems to know exactly how to pace things to make them hurt that much more when they hit.
Pray to Stay Dead is the first of the Print is Dead collection from Creeping Hemlock Press and one can only hope the rest hold up to this level of quality. Three novels are out right now and more are on the way later this year and early next.
The first 150 pages of Pray to Stay Dead are available on the site right here and the ebook is a mere five bucks. Buy it, buy it, buy it.