The Panama Laugh by Thomas S. Roche
Publisher:Night Shade Books/Aug. 2011
Ex-mercenary, pirate, and gun-runner Dante Bogart knows he’s screwed the pooch after he hands one of his shady employers a biological weapon that made the dead rise from their graves, laugh like hyenas, and feast upon the living. Dante tried to blow the whistle via a tell-all video that went viral – but that was before the black ops boys deep-sixed him at a secret interrogation site on the Panama-Colombia border. When Dante wakes up in the jungle with the five intervening years missing from his memory, he knows he’s got to do something about the laughing sickness that has caused a world-wide slaughter. The resulting journey leads him across the nightmare that was the Panama Canal, around Cape Horn in a hijacked nuclear warship, to San Francisco’s mission district, where a crew of survivalist hackers have holed up in the pseudo-Moorish-castle turned porn-studio known as The Armory. This mixed band of anti-social rejects has taken Dante’s whistle blowing video as an underground gospel, leading the fight against the laughing corpses and the corporate stooges who’ve tried to profit from the slaughter. Can Dante find redemption and save civilization?
The Panama Laugh has been high on my to-read list for a bit, but it moved up in the queue because Paul Goat Allen (of Barnes and Noble) said it was awesome. Yep, The Panama Laugh made a zombie fave list of his, and it’s been a few books since my last zombie novel, so it was time. There’s a fairly comprehensive synopsis above so I won’t rehash it. I will say that The Panama Laugh grabs you by the throat, hard, pretty much from page one and doesn’t let you go. Please let me stress this. It. Doesn’t. Let. Up. Dante Bogart is pretty much everything I love in an anti-hero. Yes, I’m a sucker for the bad boys sometimes, I admit it, and Frosty D. (don’t call him that)¸falls right in with just the kind of guy that would get my motor running. When the man wakes up naked, bloody, and loaded for bear in the middle of a battleground, gets up, surveys the scene, takes a suspicious-yet-valuable looking case with him, and makes his getaway, I’m totally his by the time he washes up at the home of his old friend Van Fish, wondering where the last 5 years went. His old flame, Trixie (that’s Dr. Trixie to you) is there too, and she’s a little bit pissed at how Dante left things between them. That’s really the least of his worries though. Trust me on this one. When the laughers start invading the shoreline of Fish’s jungle home, the real fun starts.
Thomas Roche pulls absolutely no punches with Panama Laugh. The guffawing (this is seriously creepy-making), hysterical dead come from every direction, and thanks to a relatively good supply of ammo, lots of guts end up flying around. Lots. A veritable cornucopia of gooey flying zombie flesh fills the pages of The Panama Laugh. As Dante, Trixie, and Van make their escape via air, eventually ending up on a nuclear fortified gunship of the coast of San Francisco, our hero rarely flags. Told in first person from Dante’s POV, the narrative goes back and forth between the action at hand to the events leading up to the zombie apocalypse, and it’s not a pretty story. Corporate greed, a madman’s desire for eternal life, and radical groups bent on depopulation make for a heady cocktail, and Dante’s experience with the nasty cause of the Panama Laugh is very, very personal. Giving away too many details would take away the visceral fun of this awesome, terrifying, gruesome, and warped roller coaster ride, and I certainly don’t want to do that. Roche’s writing is tight, immediate, and engaging, and if you’re anything like me, you’ll want to read it in one sitting (ok, I read it in two, but I wanted to read it in one.) Horror lovers will eat this one up (sorry about the pun), and if you’re a true zombie fan, it’s not to be missed. I was in the mood for something “zombie”, different, and awesome, and I got all three, and more, with The Panama Laugh. Put this one on your must list!