Tooth and Nail by Craig DiLouie
Imagine you’ve been deployed to the Middle East, for longer than anyone dreamed would be possible when the war started. You’re finally getting to go home. It’s emergency duty in New York City, but it’s still home. There’s an epidemic. It’s everything the swine flu was feared to be and then some – extremely contagious and up to 5% lethality. There is no vaccine, which is unfortunate as some of the sick experience symptoms much like rabies – dementia, paranoia. They become … dangerous.
That’s the nightmare in which Charlie Company’s Second Platoon find themselves in Craig DiLouie’s 2010 novel Tooth and Nail. It’s a gritty take on the zombie apocalypse, fought on the streets of New York. The military framework is a natural – where else would you want to be during a zombie war than in the best funded military on Earth?
The characters aren’t cookie-cutter cannon fodder or stereotypical power-crazed officers. They react in spectrum of ways – selfish, loyal, craven, implacable. They have to contend with the tension between following orders and the prospect of having to fight other Americans that have been infected by the virus. They also face rapid breakdown in services, lack of supplies and medicine, and a public that is demanding, self-centered, and terrified. And then there are the sick people. The “Mad Dogs,” as they become known.
Zombie stories play out all kinds of cultural metaphors, and this one is no exception. It can be seen as an intense take on the morality of combat in a civilian zone, where the line between civilian and non-combatant and soldier, regular or guerrilla, erodes.
The main character is the Army itself – the culture, language, rituals, rules and tools. The individual cast members are embedded in this matrix, to such a degree that sometimes they stand out sharply, but their features sometimes fade and they move as gears in the military machine. DiLouie’s Army is detailed and believable. The reader feels as if she is there with the soldiers as, often with grim humor, they struggle to fulfill their orders amid chaos and panic.
I won’t be surprised when I hear this book has been picked up for a movie. It would be a welcome addition to the genre – an inside view of a powerful army faced with defeat from a foe that fights with tooth and nail.