The Savage Dead, by Joe McKinney
"It starts in a laboratory. A man-made strain of flesh-eating virus. Created by a power-hungry cartel. Capable of turning victims into brain-dead carnivores. Smuggled aboard a cruise ship that's about to set sail...One by one, the passengers are exposed. A U.S. senator. A young couple. An undercover agent. A beautiful assassin. Some will be infected. Others will survive. But no one will be spared if the outbreak isn't contained - and the dead outnumber the living...Enter Delta Force operative Juan Perez. He's fought the deadliest killers in the darkest hellholes on earth. But he's never seen anything like this - an apocalyptic cargo of pure zombie mayhem heading for the coast. If Perez and his SEAL team can't stop it, America, and quickly the entire population of the world, are finished. The plague years will begin..."
Zombies on a cruise ship...campy or creepy? My vote is waaaay creepy.
The premise here is that Senator Rachel Sutton has spearheaded a law that is a real thorn in the side of the Mexican cartels, and they have a score to settle with her. They've made multiple attempts on her life so far, but her excellent secret service team has managed to keep her safe. Juan Perez, the head of her security detail is a former Delta Force agent and along with his second-in-command, Tess, they are more than a match for anything the cartels can throw at them.
Except, now one of the cartels has stumbled upon a mutated Clostridium bacteria that creates zombies out of its victims, and they have found a delivery system for it as well. They think they could not only take out the senator, but send a serious message to the U.S. if they could release the bacteria. But how, can they do that without turning the world into the real-life Walking Dead? That's where the cruise ship comes in. It's contained and the outbreak will spread quickly. And with the cartel's deadly spy/hitman, Pilar Soledad, also aboard, they can ensure that the mayhem goes according to plan.
The zombies in this book are extra scary because they must be taken out with a precise shot to the medulla oblongata. No other shot will drop them, even other head shots. Additionally, some of the zombies are the slow kind, but some of them are fast and super-aggressive. The bacteria affects people in different ways. Add in the claustrophobic element of being trapped in a relatively small space that is now over-run with the undead and you have a book that will give you nightmares.
One thing I also appreciated about this book is that although the premise is a bit far-fetched, the author did a lot of research to at least explain why everything happened the way it did. He's come up with a plausible enough scenario for horror fiction and the details about the military ops are precise enough so that you feel immersed in the action. In fact, the least believable detail is the idea that one of our Senators would work across aisles and put themselves in great jeopardy to pass legislation that would be of huge benefit to the American people. HA HA.
The characters are all well fleshed out and interesting. Pilar, in particular, is fascinating. She is the epitome of the sexy female spy that seduces a target and takes them out. But she is also wounded by her childhood in Ciudad, and her experiences as an orphan there. She is sort of a sympathetic character but also a bad, bad girl. I found myself both rooting for her to redeem herself and rooting for her to get eaten by zombies. She had me torn.
So, for what seemed like it might be just a campy, silly read about zombies on a cruise ship, it turned out to be pretty darn entertaining. I haven't read any of Joe McKinney's other books, but he has a number of zombie novels out there. So, if you feel like being properly freaked out, check them out.
Here's the author's blog: http://joemckinney.wordpress.com/
And his books on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/52047.Joe_McKinney