By Kirsty McKay
Published by Chicken House
ISBN 978 1 906427 870
It takes a skilful writer to mix horror and comedy successfully in one novel because laughing out loud and being scared out of your wits don't usually go hand in hand. You might utter a nervous laugh to relieve the tension when fear strikes, but you won't chortle with delight.
Yet Kirsty McKay has managed to pull off some clever sleight of hand with her first novel, Undead. Here is a fast and furious teen horror story peppered with genuine laughs. And the author throws the reader into a nightmare situation right from chapter one.
Our heroine and narrator is a sassy American teenage girl called Bobby, who feels like an outsider at her new school in Scotland.
She and a group of fellow students and teachers are returning home by coach after a skiing trip. It's snowing and freezing cold outside, so Bobby decides to stay on the bus with one other student - bad-boy Smitty - while the other chattering, excited teenagers get out at an isolated cafe.
And that's when everything starts to go wrong.
Something terrible happens to Bobby's classmates inside the cafe: they become infected after drinking Carrot Man Veggie Juice. Death strikes them down - only for them to soon rise again as flesh-eating zombies. And they're hungry! And, yes, there is live flesh sitting on the coach parked right outside.
This ghoulish set-up is sudden and effective, and helps to give the novel a tight, relentless focus.
Our two "meals" find themselves joined by two other teenagers - the class beauty queen and a geek - that have also escaped becoming zombies.
They manage to take refuge in one of the cafe's buildings. Yet they have nowhere else to run and no way to communicate with the outside world. Can they survive the plague of zombies that are getting closer by the minute?
A novel about a small group of humans battling zombies is not exactly new. So hasn't it all been done before? You may wonder what makes McKay's offering worth reading. Undead is very much a novel aimed at teenagers, with a pacy plot, witty, modern dialogue - "wot-evah" and "fo'sho" - and interesting characters,
The ever-shifting relationships between the four very different youngsters, as they fight an increasingly difficult battle to avoid being eaten, prove absorbing. McKay's four main characters are most certainly not the stock, cardboard cut-outs that appear in other novels of the same genre.
There are many droll and original touches along the way to enjoy, too. As they run for their lives, the beauty queen, worried about getting dirty, complains, "I'm not crawling in there. It's filthy." And the geek points out, as they consider sliding to safety: "The chances of escape will depend on the gradient of the chute."
Shiver, smile - and enjoy.
John Millen can be contacted on MillenBookshelf@aol.com