I have recently been reading Charlie Higson's zombie books and enjoyed them so much I decided to try something else in this genre. The fact that this book takes place in Belfast was an added incentive to try it. I thought it might be fun reading about familiar locations, and a pleasant relief to read a book set in Belfast that id not about "The Troubles". You see I don't really enjoy Troubles based literature - and I believe there is so much more to Northern Ireland than a bloody conflict. And for every horror story you read about the troubles - I could tell you another about the decency of ordinary people on both sides of the divide - but those stories just are not newsworthy. Unfortunately - this was a lot more "Troubles" based than I expected, but that is not the main reason for my low rating on this book.
I imagine most of you are familiar with the basic Zombie survival story - most of the world is ravaged by the undead - a few survivors band together to increase their odds etc... A fair number of gory scenes with flesh eating and so on, plenty of shooting and to bashing etc.... What makes or breaks these stories is the strength of the characters. Each character brings their own past life into the equation - changing the groups dynamics. A good story, in my opinion, has characters you relate to, ones you feel for and like. A talented author can describe characters in such a way that you feel as if you know them. I'm afraid that never happens here. The characters are terribly shallow and one dimensional, and there motives are reduced to simple survival for the most part. There is no altruism here- or even intelligence. It seems the only survivors in Belfast are as thick as two planks. The amount of time it takes them to figure out that they should shoot for the head is amazing - come on - anyone who has seen any zombie flicks knows that one!
The story begins with two members of the PSNI, one old school RUC - and also a drug addicted sociopath, but with loyalty and courage at least - but he seems to stupid to really be afraid of much. Then we have good old George Kelly - the new face of PSNI - plays everything by the book - by the police handbook never mentioned a zombie apocalypse. These characters remain relatively minor though, as does beer guzzling balaclava clad Mc Fall.
One of the main characters is Pat - an IRA hitman with plenty of notches in his belt who waivers between remorse and wanting to knock off a few more Brits. His parish priest has assured him just because he murders people doesn't make him a bad man - but he wonders what the families of the dead think of him. This annoyed me a bit. True the author is Belfast born and bred, but he must have lived his whole life on the Malone Rd! He seems to know less about those from social classes that were harder hit than a complete foreigner would. Pat's murderous behaviour is explained though by the most ridiculous story one could ever imagine about the evil Brits. In fact the Brits are certainly far worse than the undead and characterized as an evil empire that would surely have the worlds attention for war crimes if it were true. I won't go into any detail here as it would be a spoiler but it is a scenario far less believable than everyone who catches the flu becoming an undead flesh eating ghoul. But dear old Pat isn't a bad guy just because he kills people and beats women - after all he only beats women when they need it - for their own good you know - a very altruistic fellow.
Our other male leading man is author himself - OK he is thinly disguised as fictional character, but I knew without a shadow of a doubt that when I looked up the authors picture online it would perfectly match the description given of Lark. Lark is a tattoo covered makeup wearing cocaine addict, with some minor flaws but basically a hero who has been awaiting his chance to show his true worth all his life. He wasn't really recognised much in the pre apocalypse world - the kind of fellow women passed by. But he has a heart of gold just waiting on the right woman, the "Red Sonya" he has dreamed of since childhood. This character, unsurprisingly has the most depth, and you do feel sorry for him, not so much in the new zombie infested plague lands but in the isolation of ordinary life.
But if the male characters are bad - the females are worse. We have Karen - who Pat thinks would have been a nun if she hadn't been born a prod. She is one of those woman who exists only to be a mother - to nurture. She has nothing to do with men before the troubles. She read a romance novel once but put it down, shocked by it's racy content. Instead she spends her life in church and prayer meetings but fluctuates a bit between the all motherly/ virgin/ Madonna figure, and childishly wanting to shoot things. Her relationship with Pat is of course purely platonic, Karen truly is the virgin on pedestal.
Geri however, is the polar opposite. With her "Red Sonya" good looks, somewhere between a supermodel and a "Celtic princess". With her life in danger - Geri sees a chance of salvation - but of course she puts her makeup on before taking it- even when this delay endangers the lives of others. After all with new "talent" and perhaps a chance to satisfy her lust a girl has to look her best. Then she takes offense when a new arrival is more concerned with the threat posed by the undead than noticing her beauty. Poor Lark knows he never had much chance with women before, but with nearly all the men groping about moaning and eating intestines - perhaps he might be in there with a chance. He seems like the sort of fellow just waiting for the end of the world to come in the hopes of getting a date.
Rounding it all up we have an evil Dr Mengele sort, who was employed by the British forces as an expert in torture prior to this outbreak and now more or less runs the last British army base.
There really is not a plot to summarise here, other than the one size fits all zombie survivor plot mentioned above. There is one slight twist, but nothing overly exciting and one I guessed at right away. Still, I despise spoilers myself so will leave this for those who wish to read this to find out. There really isn't much of an ending either. It reads to me as if it were only half written - but perhaps that is intentional. A sequel will be available soon.
Inspite of all of this, I did find the book interesting, but not really as a zombie novel. Instead I was quite interested in the authors feelings towards women. Rather than read a sequel, I'd sooner hear about his childhood. His female characters so perfectly illustrate the Freudian Madonna/ whore complex, and paint a picture of some one who is, like the main character a good and decent fellow, but sadly damaged in a way that leaves him unable to relate to women in a meaningful manner. To me, this story is more of a tale of the two sides of femininity perceived by a many men, then a story of the undead. Please accept my apologies for use of harsh language in the title and review - there is really no other word to describe this complex. As far as I am concerned this concept - rather than the undead is the main subject in this book.
I have given this book two stars - it may appeal to certain readers, like myself, as a glimpse into a misogynistic mindset. The overall ratings have been good on this and if simple bash and slash violence is enough of a storyline for you, this might also be quite suitable. I considered knocking it down to one simply over the horrid evil empire Dr Mengele sub plot. I really did expect more from this book - it could have highlighted the basic underlying decency of people - could have focused on finding common ground. One likes to think - in the unlikely event of a zombie apocalypse we would not have Catholic and Protestant's anymore. I don't think zombies are overly religious, but the living could just be people. Finally - I do not believe this book is suitable for under 18. There is one single scene of a violent sexual nature which is very graphically described.
After perusing through the "recently returned" section in my local library, I came across the book I will now review for you, and after reading the brief synopsis thought it might make a welcome change from the vampire and chick lit books that I seem to have in droves waiting to be read!
The book I will now review is - "Flu by Wayne Simmons".
The book starts with a pair of policeman heading towards a job, at first you assume it is a riot of some sort, due to the abuse that is dumped on them, but soon it becomes apparent that there is something much more sinister taking place.
After arriving at a bock of flats, and managing to battle their way through the ever increasing crowds. Upon reaching the room in question it is soon clear that these are not normal circumstances, the policemen (George and Norman) are wearing chemical suits, with breathing equipment and the reason they have travelled to the job is to quarantine a polish woman into the flat she shares with her young daughter, who has developed a deadly strain of the flu.
The flu is reported to be spreading like wild fire across Ireland (where the book is set), and also across Europe and eventually the world.
Thousands are dying, dropping like flies, with the incubation period being hours rather than days, with death being the final outcome......or is it?
Things start to become worrying when the bodies, seemingly dead and decaying away, start to come back and search for the one last thing they remember, the warmth of live flesh.......
For anyone that watched the tv series Survivors, this is actually quite similar in content to that, with there being a flu virus that kills in the thousands.
The obvious difference is the zombie aspect, though this is not done in a scary or horror movie way, but more matter of fact, with the "living" characters having to form new friendships and bonds just to survive on a day to day basis.
There are a good few characters featured within the book, all living separately and surviving in the only ways they know how, but creating a bigger picture of the survivors, but still with the feeling of isolation and at times paranoia not knowing if you can actually trust who is with you, with there being a quite harrowing scene when a new man is taken into a house with Geri, Mcfall and Lark, a misfit group of survivors who will soon regret taking in another.
The characters are well written, all acting and reacting as you would expect humans to do in this type of situation, some crumbling through fear and some turning to their more basic characteristics, resembling animal more than human, all of which were believable and at times disturbing and heart wrenching too.
Price wise this is available from www.amazon.co.uk for the sum of £4.97.
Would I recommend this, yes it was not my normal type of read, but was never the less enjoyed more for the invocation of feelings, it had a real effect on me emotionally which for a book that I would deem as fantasy/fiction was surprising to me.
Thanks for reading x