Deck Z The Titanic by Chris Pauls and Matt Solomon
How could the Titanic disaster be any worse? Naturally, add zombies to the ship! That's the idea behind Deck Z, a book that imagines a zombie outbreak on the only voyage of the doomed ship.
The story starts with a modern day submarine exploring the wreckage of the Titanic. One passenger has been collecting items and they come across a strange metal tube that he takes. The story then flips back to the German mountain country in 1912, where an isolated scientist named Weiss is working on a plague cure. He has returned from China where he assisted in quelling a new, virulent plague. As that was wrapping up, rumors of another plague that had its victims biting people drew him to a small village. He found two infected brothers being treated by the local witch doctor. She wears a lot of clothing to protect herself but winds up bitten during Weiss's visit. Weiss has the brothers killed and burned; the witch doctor volunteers to return to Germany with him to try and find a cure. She soon turns rabid and zombie-like and he keeps her carefully sealed up.
In his isolated mountain lab, he discovers a sack of liquid in the lady's brain. He extracts the liquid which is so toxic that he calls it, "The Toxic." He goes down the mountain to report his findings. When he gets back, he realizes someone has been there. He suspects the government will use the Toxic as a weapon, burns down his lab, takes the metal tube of Toxic, and flees to America. The German government is naturally unhappy about this plan and sends agents after him. Weiss sneaks over to England and gets a ticket for the biggest boat heading to America--The Titanic. A German agent catches up with him and eventually confronts him below decks. To make sure the agent has recovered the right vial, he infects someone on board. Things get out of hand after that. Luckily the iceberg hits just before the zombies completely take over the ship.
The character interactions on the boat are interesting. There's a blend of characters historical (the captain, the band leader, one of the owners) and ahistorical (the German, the agent, a plucky 10-year old girl) who are all interesting. I wish the book had some notes about the historical characters and how true to life they were. Reading about them made me want to know more.
The mystery about where the agent is hiding on the boat and the whole mechanics of fighting the zombies on the Titanic were a bit less interesting. After the interesting set up, the story did turn into the typical run-fight-hide and try-to-outsmart story that has been done many times before. The framing story in modern day provides a typical horror ending that isn't as satisfying as the end of the ship-sinking story.
The book is a mixed bag of good and bad parts. I do wish I knew more about the actual history of the people on board (a biography of the band leader would be interesting if this book is accurate), but not enough to add more books to my unending list of "I want to get to that someday."