Review: Spec Ops Z by Gavin G. Smith

Rating: 7/10


A handsome new re-issue of a high-octane military-SF, as Russian Spetsnaz commandos are turned into zombies in ‘80s New York.

When Vadim Scorlenski and his elite Spetznaz squad are sent to New York at the height of the Cold War, they’re told it’s a ‘training exercise.’ They discover, too late, that the ‘practice’ chemical weapon they’re carrying is all too real. They go to their deaths…

…and awaken to a city overwhelmed by the walking dead, even now spreading across the globe. Somehow holding onto their identities amid the mindless monsters, Scorlenski and his squad of zombie commandos set out to return to Russia.

Someone’s going to pay.


I make no secret of the fact that zombies are my favourite horror monster by far. And that I will consume any and all zombie books I possibly can.

I generally tend to love zombie books because I’m such a huge fan of the genre. I am especially happy when it is more focussed on zombie/human conflict rather than the human/human conflict many books fall into. Therefore I was over the moon with Spec Ops Z. Not only is it very much about zombie/human conflict, and not only that, our main characters become zombies themselves. Thinking, intelligent zombies who hunger for human flesh but can control themselves. It’s a twist on a genre I love so much.

We follow a Russian Spetznaz team as they travel to New York with no idea of what their mission might be. In a very populated area they unwittingly release a biological agent and the zombie apocalypse begins. These are fast turning, fast moving zombies and the chaos unfolds at quite the pace. Once the virus/agent is released there is no turning back and the true horror begins. The Spetznaz team are a highly trained group of special forces soldiers, but even that doesn’t stop them from turning. I loved experiencing the apocalypse through their eyes. They have the hunger of the zombies, but they have enough humanity left to not start mindlessly attacking humans or the remaining human members of their squad. It presents a fresh view into this genre and I could not put it down.

We follow the team across a few places. From the middle east, to New York, and then as they try to outrun the apocalypse they started. A good portion of the book is set on a boat but it actually becomes some of the best scenes. Smith writes in such a vivid way that I found it terrifyingly easy to picture hordes of sprinting zombies, and everything that comes with this horror. There’s both a sense of huge scale but also it zeroes in on specific places and how they are individually affected. There’s a particular moment on a beach that rivals some big movie moments for me.

Of course no zombie book is complete without some kind of human enemy. I have to put here that these particular humans have decided to align themselves with Nazi’s, and as such there are many incidents of racism, sexism and things that come with those ideals. Smith doesn’t allow human conflict to swamp the whole zombie apocalypse plot line, which I really appreciated. Perhaps the last quarter of the book is dedicated to the human problem, but it fits in really well with the rest of the story overall.

Spec Ops Z could be read a standalone but there is definitely potential for this to be turned into a series. I cannot express how much I hope this happens. With Smith’s vivid writing and the stories he has introduced I hope we get to spend more time with the zombie Spetznaz group.

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