Zombie CSU – a review

September 30, 2009

Zombie CSU by Jonathan Maberry

Good zombie books are hard to find. They often slip into cliché-ridden [insert time of day] of the Living Dead copies or include too much underlined angst or present us with an implausible scenario. Occasionally – and far too often – all of these aspects are present.

Zombie CSU – The Forensics of the Living Dead by Jonathan Maberry takes another approach. It plays on that most fruitful aspect of the entire zombie culture: “What if?”

Hands up everyone who has ever speculated on what would really happen if the dead really rose up and started attacking the living. Probably every zombie enthusiast, am I right? Books like Max Brooks’ Zombie Survival Guide and World War Z both explore this to very good effect, and I’m happy to say that Zombie CSU is a good addition to the fold.

Zombie CSU looks into a possible zombie apocalypse from the point of view of experts, such as law enforcement, medical and military personnel. The book presents several scenarios familiar from zombie movies, and examines – and often debunks – them.

The book makes for fascin…no, not fascinating but very interesting reading. For those of us not inherently familiar with police and hospital procedure such as crime scene investigation and disease control, there a lot of information here written in a style easily digested and well written. The book was in my opinion a bit heavy on the forensics side, as it explored just about every single aspect of crime scene investigation, not all of which seemed particularly relevant in regards to zombies.

The credibility of a book like this depends a lot on the people interviewed, and Zombie CSU succeeds in this department. The experts do indeed seem like experts, being experienced professionals, lecturers, doctors and university professors. It’s great fun that such people have been willing to speculate on such an unlikely scenario in a serious, professional manner.

The book contains artwork and quotes from a lot of current zombie pop culture names as well, such as aforementioned Max Brooks and Robert Kirkman of the Walking Dead fame. The artwork varies tremendously in quality, but breaks up the chapters in a good way.

What conclusions does the book draw, then? Basically, that in most cases the zombies don’t really stand much chance against modern civilization. This basically launches my biggest gripe about the whole book:

While the book presents a psychological point of view also, it is sadly neglected in the conclusions. Sure, zombies are slow and and vulnerable, but are you really sure that basically pretty much anyone can deal with them simply by learning simple arm locks and basic self defense? That people – professional or not – will keep operating according to standard procedure when dealing with the dead returning to life? That people will just magically cast aside cultural and political differences and stand united against a common enemy? Call me a cynic (or a behavioral science major), but seems a bit optimistic. The US point of view of course skews things a lot. Most European countries have very very strict gun control laws, and for example in Finland it always makes headlines if a police officer needs to use his sidearm. Lately we have been discussing whether it is acceptable for taxi drivers to refuse accepting passengers with swine flu. Let’s see a society like ours dealing with zombies, let alone some developing country with limited infrastructure. Such themes aren’t touched upon sufficiently in the book.

Funnily enough, it’s this overly confident approach that would in my view cause the situation to escalate in the first place. People are irrational, emotional and more or less psychologically unstable, and society is composed of people.

Overall verdict: Zombie CSU is an entertaining read, which I’d happily recommend to anyone who’s into zombies. Since you’re reading this, you’re probably a part of the target audience. Take it with a grain of salt, however, unless you have total confidence in humanity and its authorities.

Zombie CSU is available in bookstores, I picked mine up from The Book Depository (which is my favoured choice for online book purchases). See also the book’s official homepage.


  1. I’m pleased to see you reviewing this, Mikko, and giving it the thumbs up. I reviewed it on my own blog-site a while back and rated it the best zombie book I’ve ever read. I still stand by that comment. However, I have to disagree with you on humanity’s chance of surviving a zombie outbreak. I was persuaded by the author’s arguments so much that I changed my pessimistic outlook to a more positive one. I think we ought to give the authorities a bit more respect than is usually shown in Hollywood. Cops and soldiers are professionals, which is often overlooked in zombie fiction. However, much as I like watching zombie movies, reading about them and gaming with zombie miniatures if a real zombie outbreak did occur I’d hate to see which one of us is proved right. You have to admit that this is book that makes you think, and that’s no bad thing!


    • I did indeed like the book, and the arguments are persuasive and well-founded! That’s always a huge plus. Maybe my view is indeed a bit pessimistic, but hey, you know what they say: “A pessimist is never disappointed.” The book certainly sparks a lot of thought, and I’d suggest it to everyone even slightly interested. It’s my second most favourite, right after WWZ.


  2. As far my optimism about us winning…I’d like to think that, if nothing else, an apocalypse of this kind would bring out the territorial predator in all of us. That’s what put us at the top of the food chain, we we’re too darn obstinate and greedy to let anyone take away what we’ve already taken away from others.
    Plus, we have guns. Lots of guns.
    So…yeah, I think we’d take some losses, but in the end…we’d win.
    Besides….there’s guys like you and me constantly warning folks about zombies anyway. We’re already training the troops!
    Keep reviewing, and aim for the head!
    Jonathan Maberry


    • Wow, I have an actual author comment on my review. How on earth did you end up here, Jonathan? I’m deeply honoured!

      I agree with you on the fact that humans would survive, but whether it could be called a victory is another thing. Somehow I’ve got the feeling, that among the losses we’d take would be most of the so called third world. Quarantine would probably be the international community’s response. Also, as stated in the book, the psychological impact would be devastating. Maybe we’ll agree on the choice of words that humanity “will survive”, like happened in World War Z? Calling it a victory is a bit of a stretch, no?

      Thanks for the wonderful book, and for providing us with a measure of reassurance and optimism!


  3. Speaking of treating a Zombie plague realistically: Did you hear about “When Zombies Attack: Mathematical Modeling of an Outbreak of Zombie Infection?” It’s a recent paper by a University of Ottawa math professor. I heard him interviewed on NPR:


  4. Mikko, I was not at all surprised to see Jonathan submitting a comment about your review of his book as he did the same for me. Top notch bloke! Oh, and I was just as honoured and gobsmacked as you obviously are to hear from him! It truly makes our efforts feel appreciated.


    • Indeed. I guess the question “does anyone actually read this stuff?” is pretty much what every blogger thinks, and answers such as these are indeed a rarity!


  5. Like most writer, I’m a blog junkie. I write one of my own (www.jonathanmaberry.com)…and as far as I can tell the only genuine and well-thought out reviews are on blogs.


    • Whether or not such a thing as a blogosphere exists, blogs have become the web’s richest resource for me. Strong opinions, personal views and clever insight? Sign me up!

      That a writer actually prowls the web and personally comments on reviews of his book and addresses the critique as well deserves a major tip of the hat. That’s really setting a good example.


  6. Hey, writers are ordinary guys. I put my pants on one tentacle at a time just like everyone else.


  7. Jon’s point about thoughtful reviews are very true, I read an awful lot and if anything ever really points me towards a certain volume it’s what another “hobbyist” has to say.

    Of course it’s also true of other products, esp. the gaming ones. I totally blame blogs for my current interest and latest project in 28mm zombies, so should you spot a furious woman banging on your door, 1) It’s my darling wife, and 2) I blamed my latest spending spree on you…


    • Oh dearie me, I was hoping that it was zombies at the door again. A lot of significant others seem to have great difficulties in grasping the concept of “I need these. No, they aren’t the same as those other ones.”


      • Hehe, I think my missus is actually a trifle relieved at the move towards miniatures, it means she doesn’t have to watch another damn DVD…
        Of course I’ve only just started, but hope to make up my collection with a cunning use of the christmas list…


  8. By the way, researching and writing ZOMBIE CSU inspired me to write a novel, PATIENT ZERO -which was released in March from St. Martins Press. It deals with a special ops team formed to deal with radical bio-weapons being used by terrorists -and the zombie plague is the first threat they face.

    On Friday it was optioned for TV by producer Michael De Luca (Seven, Austin Powers, Magnolia, etc.) by Sony Pictures.


    • And undoubtedly review copies are already heading friendly bloggers’ way? Dum-dee-dum…


  9. Did anyone else find this book a little dry?

    While it was certainly well written from the viewpoint of a theoretical exploration of a widespread outbreak in North America, it didn’t really hold my attention. After the outline of each chapter I was onboard with the thesis being presented and the presentation of evidence just went on FOREVER.

    The most entertaining part of the book to me where the ‘colour’ sections that referenced media from all over… A veritable Rue Morgue of reference material for Zombie fans.

    That’s just my 0.02 of course… but I would caution anyone buying this book it’s more of a critical examination (even more than Brooks Zombie Survival Guide which was at least full of anecdotes) of ‘what ifs’ and might not be exactly what you’re expecting.

    On a side note; I’m reading Patient Zero right now… it’s pretty much in Lockstep with what the Zombie CSU outlines and the only issue I’m having with it so far is the jump to first person with the protagonist and his near Herculean ability to kung-fu people in a Jason-Statham-In-Crank kind of way. His character is nicely fleshed out however; with some character flaws that make him a little more human.


    • I actually liked the theoretical approach of the book. The dry, scientific style made the scenario that much more real and creepy as a result. There was, however, some repetition in the book and at times it seemed more like an explanation of every possible method that modern CSUs use. To name an example, the ratio of police investigation vs. military reaction was very heavily on the police side. Then again, the book IS called Zombie CSU.


  10. […] although I enjoyed the non-fiction Zombie CSU (written by the same author and again reviewed here) significantly more.  All the same, like a lot of hard-boiled pulp fiction, Patient Zero contained […]


  11. […] I’m starting big, as the first interviewee is none other than Jonathan Maberry, author of Zombie CSU, Patient Zero, Rot & Ruin and Dead of Night. Click the first three titles for their respective […]


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