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Book Review: Black by Max Booth III

One of the components that may be missing from most zombie fiction is the sense of personal horror that defines how we experience horror fiction. We’re familiar with the zombie-metaphor that pervades the living; we can be defined as “zombie-like” without being undead. Max Booth III takes this metaphor and grounds it in a tale that explores the curse of immortality. A gunslinger whose pact with the devil has transformed him into a violent monster who cares nothing for mortality because it has little value to him is forced to watch the world end, and it’s all his fault.

black-by-max-boothThe premise is an interesting one: we’re given a “Western” setting coupled with the myth-concept of man’s greatest desire. Death is inevitable, but what if you could live a thousand lifetimes and die a thousand times? Is immortality something that could be easily squandered?

We are witness to the psychological malaise of a tormented man, who has accepted his infernal condition. But he’s a doomed man, as death and horror follow in his wake wherever he goes. The presence of the zombie menace parallels our protagonist’s connection to his immortal condition, which is more of a curse that has burned away his humanity over the years.

So this brings us to zombies. Don’t we want zombies? You’ll get your share of zombies in this story, whether or not we have a man who numbers among the “walking dead”; there’s plenty of action and gore, but it has a purpose behind it. Booth gives us an anti-hero who is forced to reconcile his sense of personal damnation with the possibility of catharsis; here’s where Booth really shines. The majority of stories provide catharsis as an element of plot—it’s important to give a character this opportunity to grow or change. I’m not spoiling anything here, because it’s the method by which Booth delivers this moment that makes it exciting.

I’m a sucker for Booth’s prose. He doesn’t waste words, and his characters are flawed people rather than archetypes. There’s always a bite of dark humor implicit in the language, which is all the motivation a reader needs to keep reading, though we have the advantage of a gripping story that just happens to be thrown into the mix…

Readers of zombie fiction will find something of interest here with its fresh perspective on the genre. With the level of depth Booth gives readers a chance to explore, there is, at the very heart of this novella, an entertaining horror story that can be read just as it is, without delving into any intellectual debate about its literary merit. Master storytellers have the ability to make fiction both relevant and entertaining, and Booth continues to impress.