A sexy, young, Latina drummer...a wimpy-ish white reporter...an older, no-nonsense, black pastor. This sounds like the opening to a "So and so walk into a bar" joke, but these are actually the three main characters in "Zombie, Illinois," although arguably, the real star of the story is Chicago's south side.
When the story opens, news and rumors of possible zombie sightings in Chicago are just beginning to spread. In short order, the city is completely overrun. Pastor Leopold Mack immediately heads to his church to protect and support his parishioners. The reporter, Ben, hopes he can parlay the experience into journalistic fame. Maria, meanwhile, is desperate to find her mother and sister. The three characters stumble upon each other in the midst of the apocalypse and join forces. As dangerous as the zombies are, Chicago's corrupt (and in this story, deadly) leaders pose an even greater threat as factions struggle for control.
"Zombie, Illinois" is graphic in its gruesomeness. My favorite image is that of a zombie that initially appeared to be headless and torso-less, but on closer inspection turned out to be shambling along with a broken back, with its upper body trailing behind it on the ground. There is a lot of humor and moments of levity, particularly between the sassy Maria and the infatuated Ben.
Interspersed through the story is a good deal of Chicago's history, with a strong focus on the culture and events that led to the Chicago that we all know today. The author does a great job of weaving this information into the story, without presenting it as a history lesson. For a reader like me who didn't possess a great deal of knowledge of Chicago's history, I found it all very interesting. It's clear he loves the city, and he paints a very even-handed picture, warts and all.
As an added bonus, a very well-known Chicagoan has quite the memorable cameo as a brain-eating zombie.