I don't hate zombies. Not really. In fact, they've always been my favorite horror subgenre. So it should be a good thing that they've become so popular. Right? Wrong!

But right now I'm sick of the walking dead. Far too many writers and filmmakers are doing them. It sucks when something cool gets rubbed into the dirt. I will read a zombie book every now and then. I like Brian Keene's zombie stories and I loved some of the classics like Nutman's Wet Work and Skipp and Spector's Books of the Dead. But for me to take a chance on one in these zombie saturated days it will probably have to be written by a friend.

Which brings me to Robert Freese. I had never heard of the man, but while perusing the Shocklines website I happened across a chapbook by Mister Freese called The Drive-In That Dripped Blood, I had to take a chance on it. I did, and I didn't regret it.

Robert saw the review and contacted me with thanks and we've kept in touch ever since then. Though I've never met the man in the flesh, I consider him a friend. Does this create a conflict of interest in regards to a unbiased review? The answer, for me, is no. I've reviewed a lots of books and movies done by friends and I don't think I should refrain from recommending them to others.

Bijou of the Dead was published in the Summer of 2007 by Wasteland Press. Yes, it deals with the hungry dead, but Robert has more up his sleeve than mere gut-munching tedium. Despite the novel's relatively brief running time, he introduces and nicely establishes a group of disparate characters. This author knows that for us to give a damn about the potential victims, we have to know them as people. So he bides his time and lets us into their heads.

But when the shit hits the fan, Freese delivers the grue with as much gusto as any hardcore horror novel I've read. The story is brutal, gory, hopeless and dark. What sets Bijou of the Dead apart is the humanity that the author brings to his characters. It's obvious that he put his heart into them and he has particular fun with a pair of horror fan high school kids and an old theater that specializes in playing horror double features.

I also like the way Freese explains the zombie outbreak. Instead of the usual trappings, he brings witchcraft into the story. And his zombies are more dangerous than most. They are fast, they can think and they can use tools. Power tools.

Robert Freese may be a small fish in a big pond at this point, but I liked Bijou of the Dead more than lots of books I could name by sacred cows in the genre. It may not be a masterpiece or a classic, but it's a lot of fun and that's good enough for me. If you enjoy a good zombie romp, with a bit more on its mind than most, Bijou of the Damned is probably a book for you.

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