Home Ground by Rakie Keig is another variant on the standard zombie outbreak story: there's a sick guy, he bites someone, people wonder what the big deal is, then all hell breaks loose when it starts infecting everyone else. While I would appreciate a few more twists, I give this book props for the fact it is less about telling a straight zombie story than its setting.
Home Ground takes place in an internment camp for citizens of German descent as well as other suspicious personages on the Isle of Man during World War 2. These elements are a bit of overlooked shame which rarely gets as much attention as they deserve in the ra-ra-ra we tend to do about the Second Great War. There are no Nazis, here, though someone justifiably questions whether they might be behind the outbreak, I'm inclined to think it's more a natural disaster given they would have targeted London first.
The author manages to capture the period "voice" quite well with the protagonist, Allan Hendricks, being an individual who fled from Nazi Germany before World War 2 back to his nation of birth only to be promptly escorted into a barbed wire camp on the possibility of being an enemy agent. The internment camps aren't, on the surface, horrible.
The camp reminds me a bit of, at the risk of minimizing a real-life outrage, the Village from the Prisoner. They're guest-houses and a seaside hotel fenced off from another location. The inhumanity doesn't come from the guards or the facilities but the fact the detainees, prisoners, are separated from their spouses and children for the duration of the war. Allan has a wife, Rebecca, whose name gives a hint as to why he might feel the need to move swiftly from Nazi territory and why the idea he might be a German spy is ridiculous. In a way, its rather annoying the premise gets interrupted by the arrival of zombies.
Something I'd never thought I'd say.
While we're forced to go through the motions of the usual, "he looks sick, I wonder what's wrong with him. He's died, that's too bad. He's walking around! How is he is still alive? Ah! He's attacking someone!", I was actually impressed with the different way Allen and the others reacted to the situation than a 21st century person.
The camp members assume the disease is rabies at the start and discuss the various period-appropriate treatments for it. They're dismissive of the locals superstitions about local scare legends and Romanian Strigoi but they've all heard these sorts of tales because ghost stories are their medium of entertaining themselves. I also liked the emphasis on the fact that with no real history of zombie cinema or even monster-movies, none of them having seen the Universal pictures, they react to the idea of killing a zombie the same way you would killing a very sick mentally-ill person, with revulsion and horror.
I'm really genuinely impressed with this book. It manages to do something more than just serve as entertainment, it manages to bring up a real-life bit of historical significance and present it in such a way as to remind people these kinds of stories shouldn't be forgotten. The fact it does so by using the undead is irrelevant as each of the detainees we meet is humanized and shown to be a person who did not deserve the treatment they received.
If anyone could.
Excellent-excellent period fiction.