From the BLURB:
For the first time in Killington High School history, the Jackrabbits football team is one win away from the district championship where it will face its most vicious rival, the Elmwood Heights Badgers. On the way to the game, the Jackrabbits's bus plunges into a river, killing every player except for bad-boy quarterback Cole Logan who is certain the crash was no accident—given that Cole himself was severely injured in a brutal attack by three ski-masked men earlier that day. Bent on payback, Cole turns to a mysterious fan skilled in black magic to resurrect his teammates. But unless the undead Jackrabbits defeat their murderous rival on the field, the team is destined for hell. In a desperate race against time, with only his coach's clever daughter, Savannah Hickman, to assist him, Cole must lead his zombie team to victory.
Killington and Elmwood Heights have a long, nasty history. Their rivalry goes back to the town’s founding fathers – but in recent years the animosity has been taken out on the football field between the rival high schools.
Tensions are running especially high when victory is in sight. Three teams are left and for the first time in a long time the Killington Jackrabbit’s are close to a win, after a long dry spell. But the rumour around town is that the Elmwood Heights Badgers have a little more than just talent on their side . . . and these jacked-up hot-heads are willing to do anything to win.
Jackrabbit QB, Cole Logan, has two missing fingers to show just how bad the Badgers want this victory . . . but not even he can predict the killing lengths they’ll go to.
When the entire Killington team meets a watery end, it’s up to Cole and his coach’s daughter, Savannah Hickman, to reanimate the team and drag them out of their watery graves, to have their revenge and win the game. No matter the cost.
‘Play Dead’ is the debut horror thriller from actor turned novelist, Ryan Brown.
I was a little wary going into this novel. The zombie genre has exploded to the point of ridiculousness –flesh-eaters have rewritten classic literature, retold history and even shuffled into the romance department. I haven’t really jumped on the zombie bandwagon, and the fact that ‘Play Dead’ is a zombie football novel left me a little cold. I’m Australian, so American grid-iron holds little interest for me . . . beyond being addicted to ‘Friday Night Lights’, I know next to nothing about the game itself. Still, I was intrigued by the premise of ‘Play Dead’ and loved the front cover, so I soldiered on – and, boy, am I glad I did!
‘Play Dead’ is like ‘Varsity Blues’ meets ‘Supernatural’ in a slice of Southern Gothic brilliance. The novel is told from a number of perspectives, but the narrative mostly shifts between QB from the wrong side of the trailer-park tracks, Cole Logan, and the coach’s daughter with journalistic aspirations, Savannah Hickman. In between we get narratives from various Killington town busy-bodies, football-mad parents and the ravaged meat-head QB of the Elmwood Heights Badgers. The various voices of Killington add to the small-town atmosphere – more to the point, they illustrate the small, Southern football-crazy town atmosphere. This is a Texas state that worship at the altar of the pigskin, and even when the dearly departed High School football team come back as slobbering, meat-eating zombies, the zealous football fans are happy to turn a blind eye for the sake of a hometown win. Killington’s determined ignorance also allows for some nice tongue-in-cheek observations of the teenage psyche;
“Let me ask you somethin’, Cleatus. Has your boy done much talking to you lately . . . I mean even before the crash?”
Cleatus thought about it, then shook his head. “Not unless he needs money.”
“See? It’s the same with my boy. They’re teenagers, Cleatus. They don’t want to talk to us. Let me ask you somethin’ else: What does Wyatt do most times around the dinner table?”
Cleatus shrugged. “I suppose he just sort of . . . stares off into space, eats.”
“So there you go. Wyatt’s right as rain.” Farley gave Cleatus a healthy slap on the shoulder.
Our main protagonist is Cole Logan – and he’s wonderful. Logan lives in a trailer and his mama is the town whore (even since his daddy skipped out of town last year, with the family funds). He smokes, drinks, has screwed every cheerleader and his arm is the main reason the Jackrabbits are close to winning the finals. He’s acerbic and dangerous, a good-looking bad boy with a grudge against the world. When he finds himself the last player standing after his teammates meet a watery grave, he feels the first burst of school-spirit – and with the help of his coach’s daughter, and school paper journalist, Savannah, the two of them set about reanimating the bodies of his teammates to snatch victory and gain salvation.
Savannah is a great, fiery, counterpoint to Cole’s acerbic wit. She’s the only girl in school who hasn’t batted her eyelashes at him, and the only person in town who won’t let his throwing arm endear him to her. As the two embark on a soul-saving football mission, they also begin a tentative and sweet romance. These two are great – swapping verbal barbs even as they start a slow-burning attraction. I have to admit, I would have liked a little more romance between these two to balance out the blood, gore and zombies – but their characters sparked on the page regardless of the lacking explicit scenes.
Towards the end my lack of football knowledge was a small hindrance . . . but Brown has written such cinematic action with heart-palpitating drama that my lack of football know-how mattered little for the edge-of-your-seat finale.
‘Play Dead’ is a book of Southern Gothic brilliance. Even if you don’t especially like the idea of a ‘zombie’ novel, the book has a lot more to offer – the story of a football-crazy small town, with a rebel protagonist, an unlikely romance and a game with souls on the line. Ryan Brown is like the male Charlaine Harris – using the dynamic South for a horror backdrop – and ‘Play Dead’ has ensured he is now a supernatural author to watch.