If there’s one period in American history that’s fraught with human suffering, it’s the years following the tragedy of the Civil War known as the Reconstruction. The New Orleans Zombie Riot of 1866 and Other Jacob Smith Stories by Craig Gabrysch leverages this horror and infuses it with enough cthonic dread to make the reader’s hair stand on end.
A collection of tales arranged in chronological order that follow the grim adventures of the eponymous hero, The New Orleans Zombie Riot reads less like a collection of short stories and more like a novella told in episodic installments. These are the tales of Jacob Smith, a former Union soldier haunted by the heinous acts he committed during and after the war, as he’s given a second chance: redemption through joining the fabled Knights Templar, an occult military organization sworn to destroy supernatural evil wherever it rears its ugly head.
The New Orleans Zombie Riot is ideal reading for anyone who enjoys supernatural horror set in the latter half of 19th century America. With one leg straddling the line of Old West adventure and the other deep in the kind of crawling horror you would find in the Cthulhu Mythos, the stories are in turn thrilling, chilling, and with a fair bit of wicked humor thrown in to cut the tension. As pure entertainment, reading The New Orleans Zombie Riot is akin to watching an Old West spin-off of Supernatural; with Jacob Smith routinely paired with a fellow Knight Templar, many of the stories have a strong brothers-in-arms-against-the-undead-menace dynamic that’s been popularized by the long-running television show, especially in the lighter moments of banter between Jacob and his partner. There’s even a bit of synchronicity for keen-eyed readers in that Jacob Smith hails from Lawrence, Kansas – the hometown of the two Winchester boys from Supernatural.
However on a deeper level The New Orleans Zombie Riot is less about supernatural horror and more about the terrible scar that a cataclysmic event such as the Civil War can leave on the psyche of an entire country. For all the zombies, revenants, and horrors out of space Jacob Smith has to deal with the antagonists pulling the strings behind the scenes are almost always human, driven by pain and desperation in the wake of the depredations of war. This makes The New Orleans Zombie Riot a stand out selection for having such a layered subtext even while being wildly entertaining on the surface, and it’s this thoughtful exploration of the psychic scars left by the Civil War in the trappings of supernatural horror that turns an entertaining collection of tales into something that brushes up against greatness. Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy from Amazon today – you won’t regret it.