First published back in March of 2011, British pulp horror author, Ian Woodhead’s novel ‘The Unwashed Dead’ formed the first instalment in the author’s ‘Zombie Armageddon’ trilogy.

An updated and re-edited version of the ebook was made available in 2012 and then further edits were again made in December 2013.  However this review is of the 2012 version.

DLS Synopsis:
All around the Breakspear Estate in Bradford, a large proportion of the local residents had been experiencing unexplainable headaches.  However, no one on the rough inner-city council estate would have guessed the reason why so many of its residents would be suffering from the same headaches.  Certainly no one could possibly have anticipated what would happen next.

The first signs where sporadic.  Whilst at a house party along the estate local thug, Ashton Naylor, disappeared into the backgarden to take a quick piss.  There he encountered the mother of his mate who had been holding the party, crawling out from the shrubbery.  However, she was far from her usual self.  In fact, her cold dead hands and rotting teeth would result in a sudden and painful death for Naylor.

Elsewhere Kevin Riley had spent the evening putting up with Thom Crowley – a brute of a lad who he had been keeping on side for protection rather than anything resembling friendship.  However, when Kevin’s sister, Claire, arrives home in another one of her foul moods, he finds that Thom is far from the perfect protection to have around.  In fact, when his meathead of a so-called mate takes a bite out of his sister, simultaneously infecting her with whatever it was that had gotten into him, Kevin realises he has to re-evaluate his attitude to life and fast.

Meanwhile, Dennis Flynn has been watching the proceeding mayhem breaking out around Breakspear Estate, barely believing his luck.  With his wife now out of the picture, Dennis was able to settle back and watch the violence erupt from the comfort of his own doorstep.  But what he wanted most was to get involved.  He wanted to be an instigator to the bloodshed, not just a voyeur.  And so, after all those years following his retirement, he knew it was time to get his trusty security van back out of the lock-up.  A van that had already seen more than its fair share of bloodshed.  A van that held a lot of secrets in its protective vault.  Forensics would have a field day in there if they ever got the chance.  For Dennis was no ordinary resident.  He had some very, very dark secrets.

In the space of just a few hours, the streets on the Breakspear Estate had turned into a warzone between the living and the undead.  It all started with the headaches.  Then the infection took hold of the infected and turned them.  Now a vast proportion of the residents were flesh-hungry zombies – stalking the streets and homes for the warm flesh of those that remained.

However small pockets of survivors were banding together to try and get through the night.  Ex-burglar Ernest Belmont would fall back on the skills he developed during his criminal past in order to escape the cold dead clutches of the undead.  And Kevin Riley would need to push himself to be a competitor to the shuffling dead, rather than just another potential addition to their growing hordes…

DLS Review:
There’s no denying that the zombie subgenre has become pretty darn saturated over recent years.  Indeed, one can barely move around the likes of Amazon without being accosted by a veritable tsunami of self-published zombie titles.  As such, I have to confess to having been somewhat apprehensive before embarking on Ian Woodhead’s contribution to the genre.

Although in essence the novel doesn’t deviate away from your everyday run-of-the-mill zombie Armageddon tale, nor does it offer up much in the way of real originality when standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the other zombie titles on the market, Woodhead’s novel does nevertheless zing somewhat with a very British and uncompromisingly-pulpish vibe.

From early on in the novel the reader is shown that Woodhead is here for the thrills and spills of an action-rich and quite adult zombie story, if nothing else.  There’s very little hanging around for any clever plot devices to be formed, any inter-weaving of sub-stories, or much in the way of a working up a gathering momentum.  Suspense is pretty much left at the door and instead what we have is a quite amusingly rampant storyline that thrusts the reader between the various characters, as it hurtles around the gritty concrete stomping-ground of the Breakspear council estate.

The backdrop, along with the characters, is all very British.  A Bradford man himself, Woodhead doesn’t even attempt to hide or dilute the locale’s northern dialect or lowbrow mannerisms.  And this undoubtedly works in the novel’s favour tremendously.  Woodhead’s purposeful embracing of his environment, with all its warts and all, makes for a novel that reads true to our lives.  Okay, so he’s rammed a whole zombie Armageddon storyline into this modern urban environment, but the backdrop reads real and weirdly believable.

As such you have to expect all the beautiful Northern charm that comes with the inner-city turf.  Barely a page goes by without a cacophony of ‘F’ and ‘C’ words being thrown around like expletive confetti.  However, if you’re happy to dismiss such high levels of profanity in the name of cultural realism, then there’s much to be gained from reading onwards.

Characterisation, it has to be said, is pretty much non-existent.  Woodhead utilises a whole host of characters throughout the length of the tale; gradually killing them off one-by-one until we’re left with a core group of survivors.  However, none of these have been given hardly any personalities, other than a quick cardboard cut-out ‘gritty-inner-city’ cliché that makes Shaun Hutson seem like David Moody in comparison.

In fact, Woodhead skips out on anything that could resemble a well-defined character arc, other than toying with the previously timid character of Kevin Riley to edge him closer and closer to finally standing up for himself.  Strangely, and quite unexpectedly, Woodhead never really sees this side of the story through to fruition – and instead we’re left pondering if our Kev ever had the balls to become a more dominant character.

Sympathising with any characters, or the immediate peril that they find themselves in, is therefore quite difficult if not nigh on impossible.  To be honest, with these barely defined characters all running around, with arguments and action spilling out all over the place, you’re hard pressed remembering which character is which half the time, let alone building anything like a bond with any of them.

Woodhead uses a colourful and undeniably tongue-in-cheek comical approach to the delivery of his British zombie romp.  Dialogue is often laced with wit and cultural slang, designed more to entertain than provoke any sort of response.  Furthermore, Woodhead (probably quite purposefully) throws in instantly quotable ‘Shaun Of The Dead’ (2004) style lines whenever he can.  “I could murder a kebab, you know, this zombie killing is bloody hard work” being just one such delightfully smirk-inducing example.

Unfortunately, the novel, like other pieces of Woodhead’s early work, also suffers from a serious lack of proper proofreading; being littered with typos from start to finish (more notably in the last handful of chapters).  However, this may well have been fully corrected in the December 2013 re-editing.

At the end of the day, ‘The Unwashed Dead’ is just entertainment without taking itself seriously in the slightest.  It’s completely formulaic, has little in the way of originality, depth of plot or characterisation.  In fact, there often appears to be no real overall direction to the storyline, with the characters just bumbling around all over the shop without any strong purpose behind where Woodhead intends to take the tale.  But it kind of gets there in the end.  And it’s hard to say it’s not quite good fun along the way.

The novel runs for a total of 110 pages.

© DLS Reviews


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