The Reapers Are the Angels--Alden Bell

How long is the memory of the dead? 
-Quotation from the book

This book came to me recommended by an unimpeachable source--Julie at Happy Catholic.  Generally, if Julie likes it, so do I  (we're rarely mismatched that way), I think there are many things that I have truly liked that Julie has found somewhat less appealing--so my match to her recommendations is about 90%, the reverse match probably closer to 70%.  But we have high compatibility as reading partners.

Problem is, I have a very high avoidance factor with zombie novels.  No matter how many I read, they still disturb me down to the very core of my being.  Conceptually, they are just about the most awful thing I can think of short of Jaws, and most likely for the same atavistic reason.

But you didn't really stop by to listen to me natter on about my own sensibilities, did you?  You really want to know about this book, don't you?

Think James Lee Burke filtered through Cormac McCarthy's The Road with zombies.  Boy, that really wasn't very helpful was it.  Let me try another pair of words: unexpectedly lovely.

Just as the bleakness and the barrenness of the The Road was powerfully beautiful in its own way, so too this novel about the desolation of humanity (both physically and spiritually). 

Let me share a couple of moments of insight that typify the entire book:

from The Reapers are the Angels
Alden Bell

She and Maury ride in the third boxcar along with some refugees. They are huddled and helpless and look at her through eyes that seem to predict death. They are already gone, these women with their infants clutched to their breasts, these men nursing their open wounds and wondering what contagion is already spreading through their bloodstream, these sons and daughter of the earth whose spirits have already leaked out through the rips in their flesh and the cankers in their brains.

Temple hates them instinctively. Wilson, like an inadvertent grim ferryman, does not know that what he brings home is a boxcar full of death. And these dead are worse than the meatskins, because they lack even hunger.


But there are other places too, what used to be travelers' oases, clusters of gas stations, fast-food restaurants, motels. The windows re intact, the electricity still flowing, the sliding glass doors still operational, the recorded music still playing on tinny, distorted speakers. Ghost towns. Lost to the world entirely, these places are so dead that even the dead don't inhabit there.

The story: Temple, who sometimes calls herself Sarah Mary Williams (and if that name isn't packed with all sorts of suggestion and implication, then no name is) lives on an island off the main trend of the Florida Keys.  One day she goes to the beach to find a zombie has made it to her shore--not a functional zombie--but one nevertheless.  Seeing this as sign of a possible invasion, she packs up and heads to the mainland to resume travels that started long before the book begins.  The book is the tale of those travels and how Temple becomes mixed up in a Viking Southern Gothic Revenge archtype as she searches for the promised land to deliver a man whom she helps to his family.

The novel announces its themes in the very first paragraphs--as a good novel will.

God is a slick God. Temple knows. She knows because of all the crackerjack miracles still to be seen on this ruined globe.

Like those fish all disco-lit in the shallows. That was something, a marvel with no compare that she's been witness to. It was deep night when she saw it, but the moon was so bright it cast hard shadows everywhere on the island. So bright it was almost brighter than the daytime because she could see things clearer, as if the sun were criminal to the truth, as if here eyes were eyes of night. She left the lighthouse and went down to the beach to look at the moon pure and straight, and she stood in the shallows and let her feet sink into the sand as the patter-waves tickled her ankles. And that's when she saw it, a school of tiny fish, all darting around like marbles in a chalk circle, and they were lit up electric, mostly silver but some gold and pink too. They came and danced around her ankles, and she could feel their little electric fish bodies, and it was like she was standing under the moon and in the moon at the same time.  And that was something she hadn't seen before.  A decade and a half, thereabouts, roaming the planet earth, and she's never seen that before.

And so it goes.  I will probably have to revisit this novel in a later post to do justice to all that I think is going on here.  But the purpose of this post is to say to you--go and find this novel and read it.  Grisly, ghastly, gory, gruesome, and lit all through with some of those miracles you've just heard about.  Unexpectedly, unaccountably lovely.

One last point, and I hope this speaks as loudly as I would like it to:  I borrowed this book from the library, but I need to go out and purchase my own copy.  Need, not want. This book warrants closer reading.

Highly recommended to an Adult audience *****


  1. I'm not sure what made me happier, reading that you liked the book or your opening paragraph about our compatibility as reading partners. I agree about NEEDING to own this book. Thanks to my book fast it is on my Amazon list. I can also strongly recommend the audio version. It is amazing.


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