**Content Warning:** This story contains depictions of and allusions to the abuse of vulnerable populations, such as those with disabilities, LGBTQA+, and children of abusive parents, and may contain content that some may find disturbing. Reader discretion is advised.
As the zombie apocalypse descends upon the United States, a truck appears with scavengers rescuing survivors while dispatching the undead. But when these survivors arrive at their new home, nothing is quite as it seems. With the end times near, how will a group of survivors so different from one another in ideologies, backgrounds, and desires band together to make a new way? Or will pride, envy, gluttony, greed, lust, sloth and wrath be the downfall of any chance at a new society?
The standard apocalypse and Book of Revelations tropes get upgraded with zombies, more diversity, three dimensional characters, the beauty of redemption, and the impacts of American racism and social prejudices in a post-apocalyptic scenario. Want to throw America under a magnifying glass? “The Death Doll” is not a zombie novel to miss.
I mentioned on Twitter that this is my favorite zombie book of all time. I’m saying this as a former resident of Pittsburgh that relished in Halloween every year because it meant celebrating Pittsburgh’s history as one of the cities where zombie mania began. This meant that I saw “Night Of The Living Dead! The Musical!” and did zombie themed weekend adventures around the city. I loved World War Z and I’ve loved every unique spin on zombies out there. Nothing compares to this book, and it has nothing to do with the zombies.
In “The Death Doll”, Brian P. White takes a hard look at various subgroups within the United States and places the reader inside representative characters’ heads. As described in a thoughtful disclaimer at the beginning of the book, this does include the use of bigoted language to demonstrate bigoted characters. If you would prefer to not read a book with swearing and bigoted language for demonstrative purposes, then this is not a book for you. The author does a great job of giving the reader warning ahead of time at the front of the book.
Head hopping is hard. In this book it felt natural. I never had to guess the character currently holding the point of view, and the writing style adapts to each character’s personality traits. Head hopping can only work when it is done well, and in my opinion “The Death Doll” nailed it.
I mentioned that racism and social prejudices are put on full display. Let me be blunt: no character is left flawless and racism is sometimes the base layer expectation. Every character reveals their true nature and grows when given the opportunity to incorporate new information into their world views. The characters that don’t? These are the antagonists because during a zombie apocalypse the zombies aren’t your biggest problem: other humans are. Even with conflict resolutions, the story is written without the white savior trope playing out. In fact, the book turns that trope on its head and gives it the finger in a way that does not feel forced, rather, as a reader, it seems the most competent characters are recognized for their merit.
I love that the characters make choices in actions that have consequences they must live (or die) with. Small choices around the placement of objects are brought back to have huge consequences with constantly logical chains of events (there’s a pun there you’ll only catch if you read the book).
While I do not identify as Christian, that doesn’t mean I don’t love when the Bible is used as a story telling aid for readers with high attention to detail. This book is full of biblical references that add to the symbolism and foreshadowing already present. These references are extensive enough that I would recommend “The Death Doll” for Christian book clubs that really want to delve deep into the teachings brought up and don’t mind the other details previously mentioned. I have to admit, some references are too good, bringing on laughter or groans at the incredible puns that turn into legitimate literary devices. Remember that high school friend of mine that’s a church leader? This book 100% got recommended to him.
Saving the best for last, my absolute favorite aspect of this story may be the story arc of the Death Doll herself, but, to avoid spoilers, readers will have to read the book to find out why.
While there is no overt representation of the LGBTQA community, this does not impact my rating of this book because there’s an overwhelming message of love and inclusiveness.
Any errors fell within the 1/10,000 words industry standard.
Twilight Zone Moment
There were 2 Twilight Zone Moments:
How do cell phones work in a post-zombie apocalypse world? This is nit picking and is unlikely to bother the average reader. My brain went into a lot of unnecessary technical details.
CPR/AED scene – There is one CPR/AED scene that I struggled with as a healthcare worker, but this could be fixed by characters reminding each other of modifications to the CPR procedure to reduce infection risk.
More About The Author
You can buy the book here and other online book retailers such as Barnes & Noble and BookBub. To learn more about the author, you can follow Brian P. White on Twitter and through his website here.
It’s the Great Depression. The world is on edge as global tensions are building, and economic collapses rip apart every continent. To have any money you have a lot. Religious fanatics have latched on to the sense of impending doom, with the rise of vagrant workers as the Dust Bowl tears apart the United States Bread Basket. D. H. Schleicher pulls us into his setting where an evil force is about to burn its way through an entire family as it seeks revenge.
Joshua Bloomfield is a one-armed man of mystery. He hasn’t had a home since he escaped from his dark origin. He wants to get back his money, and he wants to kill the family that stole everything from him.
The Kydd family wants to survive. As Evelyn’s health is deteriorating, she deep down hopes her husband doesn’t come home after a family tragedy breaks her heart. Her two other children, Tyrus and Sally, and the dog, Sue, are all she has left. Can they protect her from the consequences of her own actions?
In “Then Came Darkness,” D. H. Schleicher brings early twentieth-century mysticism, the Great Depression, and a thrilling story of a family trying to escape the clutches of evil. After all, evil can look just like a friend.
Later Addition: This is one of the briefest summaries I’ve written. This is to reduce spoilers as the book builds details upon themselves. Highly recommend this read.
My Overall Response:
D. H. Schleicher blew me away with this emotional story told from multiple perspectives. I laughed. I cried. I had to take breaks because some scenes tore me to pieces. It’s dark, gritty, and I love it. Highly recommend!
First, let’s talk about Joshua Bloomfield as a character. All he wanted was to kill his father, then steal all of his money as an act of grandiose revenge. Why doesn’t anyone understand him? He also has a peculiar way of showing people he loves them. Or hates them. Not really sure. He’s a messed up dude, okay? Yet, I say that while defending him in that weird antihero way.
Next, there’s Evelyn Kydd. Evelyn is a character that is often in her own head through reliving memories, having seizures, and with those seizures sometimes visions. This gift is enough that her get-rich-quick-scheme husband wishes he could have taken her on the road. But she loves her children more than anything, especially her oldest child. She’s full of self-blame for things that she has done. The majority of the blame is a result of a society always telling her how unimportant she is. As a reader, I am saddened and frustrated by the way Evelyn believes she deserves what is happening to her. She’s an exceptionally well written female character.
This book has some death scenes. Schleicher uses these to his advantage as he first tells you that a character experiences heartbreak for the first time, then proceeds to make you, the reader, feel that heartbreak. The catharsis of emotional writing in this book was incredible. For reference, other books that have done this to me include “The God of Small Things” by Arundhati Roy, “Bright as Heaven” by Susan Meissner, “The Sun Also Rises” and “The Old Man and the Sea” by Ernest Hemingway. It’s not easy to make me feel things!
I loved the structure of the novel as it continually brings flashbacks to fill in the gaps the reader may have little by little. Nothing is revealed immediately, though the reader may figure some things out. Such as the exact location of a particular setting, based solely on the description of walking up a set of brick steps from the James River up to the street in Shokhoe Bottom, Richmond, Virginia. As someone that has walked those steps, the description was accurately written.
This book does not directly address issues of the LGBTQA community or have characters identifying as such. This does not impact my recommendation to read this book.
This book is well within the standard of 1 error per 10,000 words. The only derailing issue was the use of “pealing” (a loud noise) instead of “peeling” (lifting in a layer from another surface). This may not be noticed by other readers, though.
Twilight Zone Moment:
Every book has at least one. These are the moments that don’t quite add up and throw a reader rolling down into the uncanny valley for a moment in an otherwise brilliant scene.
Where did Myra go? Why did we not meet Myra again? We spend an entire chapter of the book meeting a character named Myra, who is going back to New York City because a young man in love with her has died. Yet, she doesn’t visit the family or her own father?