The Dead is a simple title, but one that does not mimic the complexity of the story within. Rogers' 1989 novel has been reprinted by Permuted Press in a tome containing over 30 original illustrations by the author. Rogers has managed to work in zombies with an intricate religious plot that hinges on sinning and repentance.
We are introduced to Gary, an atheist who begins the story with strange dreams about his father's death that come true. Disappearances, strange mechanical failures, and shared nightmares preclude the zombie apocalypse, which soon becomes a fight for survival when Gary and his family, especially his brother Max, are targeted by the big bad daddy Legion in his quest to damn them to Hell.
The main point to bring up about Rogers' story is the fact that it manages to break free of the stereotypical zombie genre to include a legitimate plot about religion. Zombie films tend to make mention of some sort of religious aspect as a cause of the zombie outbreak, specifically blaming God for the suffering caused, but generally it remains two-dimensional in scope. Rogers' plot is more focused on the Last Judgment, and zombies are just a side-effect of that event. This makes the story so much more intriguing - instead of requiring the reader to slog through 300 pages of zombie mayhem which differs only slightly from others of the same ilk, we get drama that originates from the conflict of religion.
One of the best things about The Dead is its reluctance to jump right into the violent, gory nature of zombies. Instead, we're treated to creepy, atmospheric dreams and frantic conversations that make the lead-up to the Last Judgment so much more eerie than being thrown into the action right away. Rogers has done a good job of creating tension throughout the piece, enough to keep the reader going without knowing exactly what is happening.
The zombies are intense, especially because they can't be killed with just headshots. They're practically unstoppable, continuing to advance even when they're in pieces. It makes the action much scarier when the enemy is barely susceptible to weaponry. Legion also has some solid dialogue that gives him a really menacing quality.
The setup is good, it's no lie, but there's a point where Rogers starts to lose a grip on concluding the story. The salvation of the good is slightly confusing; some suffer, some don't and are just divinely spirited to Heaven. There are a few instances where the ideas are presented but never cleared up; for one, the mechanical failures don't seem to make sense, because the entities that are creating the problem seem to be against the zombies.
There's also a tendency to rely too much on religious dialogues to advance the plot. There are times when whole chapters are devoted to the characters waxing philosophical on their own ideas of religion, and while it adds good characterization, it can get a little tiring to wade through all of the mumbo-jumbo.
But summationally, The Dead works well to combine suffering and sinning with zombies in a crazed world, with characters who are continually tested by ultra-stressful events. There's some great imagery here that provides a dense atmosphere, one which can become creepy in the right setting. While the illustrations could be better in printing quality, they do add a lot to the story alongside it, and Permuted Press' new edition of Rogers' novel thankfully reprints this worthy zombie read.