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Book Review: Play Dead by Ryan Brown


play dead ryan brown Book Review: Play Dead by Ryan Brown

As an Aussie, Ive always been intrigued by the fact that gridiron players suit themselves up in helmets and padding and all sorts of protective gear. After all, Aussie Rules football seems to be about sustaining as much injury and wallowing in as much mud as possible within those four 30-minute quarters. But having read Play Dead, I feel much better informed than previously. It turns out that all of that gridiron padding is in fact necessarybecause without it your players stand a fair chance of winding up dead.

Hyperbole? Nope, not if you happen to live in the aptly named Killington, Texas, where fans and players alike are so invested in the game that they get a bit bloody-minded about the whole thing. Literally, as quarterback Cole Logan finds out when a rival team launches a series of attacks that start with the odd digital amputation and that end with the murder of Coles team. Needless to say, the locals are bit miffed to hear about this whole thing, particularly given that the team was in good stead to win its first championship in years.

But Killingtons residents are a pragmatic lot, and theyre not about to let a little bit of death get in the way of the playoffs. With a bit of help from spooky lady Mona, the team is back in business, Shaun of the Dead style. Sure, they smell a bit rank, theyre not especially articulate, and they have astonishing appetites for all things bloody and protein-laden, but its not like these represent significant changesthey are teenaged footballers, after all.

Unfortunately, Coles on a deadline, and if he doesnt bring these players to victory, theyre dead meatagain. And this time, for good.

Ah, a darkly comedic zombie football thriller set in Texas. Whats not to love? Not a lot, to be honest. Brown has a rollicking time with this novel, and gets his typing fingers dirty satirising just about every element of small-town life imaginable. The writing has some surprisingly nice moments, and despite Browns fairly narrow character range, he does a good job of making these characters appeal.

Theres enough situational humour in the novel to rescue the novel from its over-reliance on concept and its occasionally slumping plotits not until halfway through the book that we get zombies, and Im in it for the zombies, damnit! This tongue-in-cheek approach also helps smooth over some otherwise awkward plot points, such as spooky Monas rather random decision to commit suicide in order to zombify the towns football team, and the slightly bits-and-pieces approach to student journalist Savanna Hickmans past. It also allows Brown to get a bit zany when it comes to Killingtons rival team, a pack of steroid-shooting lunatics who themselves are scarcely able to be differentiated from the real zombies.

But Browns approach isnt purely about getting the giggles. Theres a certain sensitivity in the way the footballers are depictedand indeed constructed by those around them. The players arent people, but rather various parts of a collective who are expected to reach a particular outcome. Indeed, one wonders whether they would have been mourned at all had they not been on a winning streak this season. Its a sad state when the value of an individual is measured on their financial (or in this case athletic) contribution to society rather than on any other sort of merit scale, but as Brown seems to be indicating, thats exactly where we seem to be headed. There are also noticeable undertones of the cult of celebrity, which may be the result of Browns own background (Brown is an actor with a fairly solid set of acting credits behind him).

Browns acting background can perhaps also be seen in the rather cinematic feel of this bookI wouldnt be surprised to see it adapted for the big screen as a sort of laconic Southern version of the aforementioned Shaun of the Dead. There are plenty of other references that come to mind when reading this, too, not least Billy Connellys recent Fido, and of course Stephen Kings Pet Sematary.

On the whole, Play Dead'is a solid, silly read that despite its slow-burn beginning will have newbie and veteran zombie-lovers alike along for the ride. Yes, its a debut, and to that end has a few quirks, but theres so much glorious irreverence here that its hard not to chalk this one up as a thoroughly enjoyable guilty pleasure. Brown is an author to watch, and I for one will be doing so (as an aside, I have to say that Im just a tad excited about his forthcoming cryogenic John Wayne novel).

'With thanks to Simon and Schuster Australia for the review copy

Rating: star Book Review: Play Dead by Ryan Brownstar Book Review: Play Dead by Ryan Brownstar Book Review: Play Dead by Ryan Brownhalfstar Book Review: Play Dead by Ryan Brownblankstar Book Review: Play Dead by Ryan Brown (very good)

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This book also appears on our'list of zombie fiction

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