In his capacity as a lieutenant-colonel in His Majesty's army, Lord John Grey is sent to Jamaica to put down a slave rebellion that has been brewing in the mountains, where plantations are being burned by groups of blacks known as maroons. But he quickly discovers that there's even more at stake when one of the governor's servants informs him that zombies are coming for the governor. John has no idea what zombies are, but when a shadowy figure, smelling of death, tries to kill him, he's pretty sure he's just found out. Being a practical man and not believing the dead can actually rise from the grave, he sets out to find exactly what is causing this phenomena, but as he investigates, a murder occurs right in the governor's mansion. From interviewing practitioners of the mystical arts to venturing into the mountainous jungles of the island, John's sleuthing skills put him on the trail of a much larger ring of corruption that could get him and his men captured or even killed.
A Plague of Zombies falls about one year after The Scottish Prisoner in the Lord John Grey series chronology. In this one, John has now been promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel and is finally the one in charge of the troops. He's been sent, along with a number of other soldiers, to Jamaica to put down a slave revolt. As with most things in life, this isn't as simple and straight-forward as it seems. As John starts looking into matters upon his arrival on the island, he starts to uncover government corruption and other criminal deeds, some of which have led to the slaves rebelling. Add in tales of the supernatural and John being attacked by what appears to be a zombie, and you have the makings of a fun and engaging read.
As always John shows that he's an honorable man who always tries to do the right thing, standing out in contrast to the corrupt officials who think nothing of using and abusing slaves, as well as engaging in other misdeeds. He also proves himself, once again, to be highly intelligent, methodically investigating the root cause of the slave uprising and later a murder, and of course, figuring everything out in due time. John gets to show his diplomatic side as well, when he must negotiate with the maroons (those who are essentially at the head of the rebellion) for the release of his men. In this, he also proves his bravery again, too. According to Diana Gabaldon's author note, all of this is apparently in preparation for John eventually becoming governor of Jamaica, which is where he is when Jamie and Claire find themselves there in Voyager. Last but not least, I love that for a man from his time period, he's almost surprisingly colorblind. In Custom of the Army, he had a very brief affair with a Native American, and although nothing comes of it this time, he, nonetheless, finds himself extremely attracted to one of the governor's black servants in this story. So all in all, John is still the amazing hero I've come to love over the course of reading the Outlander series and now his own books.
Overall, I really enjoyed A Plague of Zombies. Out of the shorter novellas of the series, this is now my favorite one. It may have partly been because the military theme was fairly minimal this time. But I think it may also have to do with it being a little more closely related to events in the Outlander books than some of the other Lord John stories are. Not only do we get to see John taking actions in Jamaica where he will eventually be in charge, but he also interviews Geillis Duncan who, of course, is now Mrs. Abernathy of Rose Hill plantation, right after her husband dies. Being the sharp investigator that he is, John almost immediately realizes that she's probably guilty of murdering the man herself, although he has no proof, merely a hunch. John also briefly meets up with a couple of members of the Twelvetrees family who've been a thorn in his side, while trying to keep his duel with Edward Twelvetrees back in London a secret. The last thing that really made this novella pop for me was the zombie theme, which is really interwoven with the black African culture of the island. I don't know if it's actually possible to make a zombie as presented in the book, but I know Ms. Gabaldon is a master at research and if she included it, there must be at least some anecdotal evidence for such a thing. I think I'm an armchair anthropologist at heart, so I loved learned about the cultural aspects of voodoo and other mystical practices that the Africans brought with them, as well as how the former slaves escaped into the hills of the island. It all made for a fascinating story that kept me riveted throughout. A Plague of Zombies was originally published in the multi-author anthology, Down These Strange Streets, and was later republished as a stand-alone novella in eBook format. It's most recent publication is in the single-author anthology, Seven Stones to Stand or Fall, along with several other Outlander related novellas.
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