Since the weather was still pretty hot, I felt like reading a nice relaxing zombie novel. So, I thought that I’d take the chance to read a book that I’ve been meaning to read for a few months, namely Mark Morris’ 2014 novel “Zombie Apocalypse! Horror Hospital”.
I first saw this book online a few months ago and was impressed by the dramatic title and gloriously melodramatic cover art. But, since it was slightly expensive at the time, I ended up reading Alison Littlewood’s “Zombie Apocalypse! Acapulcalypse Now” instead. However, a couple of weeks before writing this review, second-hand copies of the book were a little bit cheaper online, so I decided to get a copy.
Although this book seems to be a spin-off from Stephen Jones’ “Zombie Apocalypse!” series, it seems to be a fairly self-contained novel. Yes, some elements of the book will probably make more sense if you’ve read the main series (which I haven’t, since they seem to be epistolary novels. And, although I read “Dracula”, “Carrie” and “World War Z” during the ’00s, I’ve kind of gone off of this narrative style). But, this is pretty much a self-contained stand-alone novel with conventional third-person narration 🙂
Anyway, let’s take a look at “Zombie Apocalypse! Horror Hospital”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.
The novel begins in London, in a dystopian version of Britain (well, more dystopian than usual). A night-shift nurse called Cat Harris is on her way to Lewisham Hospital when a frenzied person covered in blood lurches out in front of the car. Luckily, Cat is able to get away but she feels slightly shaken by the incident and somewhat guilty about not helping the person who lunged at her car. Still, there is work to be done at the hospital’s A&E department…
Meanwhile, a seventeen-year old gang member called Carlton is preparing for an attack on a rival gang. Although Carlton’s gang have the element of surprise on their side, Carlton ends up getting stabbed in the hip by a youth from the rival gang. So, naturally, he ends up being taken to A&E at Lewisham Hospital….
Whilst all of this is going on, there’s a hen party in a nearby nightclub. Although the evening is going well, a bearded man in a white robe enters the nightclub and begins to rant about beltane, fleas and other arcane things – before suddenly biting the bride-to-be. Whilst the other people at the club beat the bearded man to a pulp, the hen party make their way to Lewisham Hospital’s A&E department….
One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is basically an updated modern version of classic 1980s splatterpunk fiction 🙂 Everything from the cynical dystopian satire to the gritty inner London setting to the gallons of gore is wonderfully evocative of classic ’80s splatterpunk authors like Shaun Hutson, James Herbert etc…
But, it is also a modern novel too – about the best way to describe this is that the novel is maybe a little bit like Attack The Block mixed with the film adaptation of V For Vendetta mixed with 28 Days Later and/or possibly the first “Resident Evil” movie.
As a horror novel, this story works really well 🙂 Although it isn’t exactly scary, it is filled with the kind of intense, ultra-gruesome, claustrophobic, tragic, dystopian, fast-paced and suspenseful horror that you would expect from a 1980s-style splatterpunk novel.
Likewise, this novel also includes some transgressive horror, some medical horror, a bit of paranormal horror, lots of apocalyptic horror, a few moments of gothic horror and some insect-based horror too. In other words, this isn’t a novel for the easily shocked or horrified.
Interestingly, the zombies in this novel are modern-style fast-moving zombies – with the zombie virus also being spread via infected fleas (like the bubonic plague) and having some kind of paranormal component to it too.
This allows for some fairly inventive scenes, such as infected characters having psychic visions or pickled specimens in a nearby medical museum returning to life. In addition to this, the fast-moving zombies also help to keep the later parts of the story suitably thrilling too. But, thankfully, some classic tropes of the genre (eg: aim for the head!) still remain too 🙂
Like any good zombie story, this novel also contains a fair amount of dark humour too 🙂 In addition to a few movie/TV references, a subtle reference to James Herbert’s “The Rats“, arguments about whether the zombies are actually zombies and some amusing dialogue segments, there are also a few brilliant moments of grotesque humour too (such as a heartwarmingly romantic reunion… of zombies) which will either make you laugh out loud or feel slightly queasy.
The novel’s dystopian elements are pretty interesting too. Although they’re mostly kept to the background, this story is set in a vaguely “V For Vendetta”-style version of Britain that has a nationalistic UKIP/Tory-style government, daily curfews, armed police, mysterious conspiracies etc.. With the only reason that it hasn’t turned into a full-blown 1984-style dictatorship mostly just being because of governmental incompetence, stinginess/austerity etc.. Seriously, this novel is a brilliant piece of political satire.
However, one fault with this novel is that it overloads the reader with characters and sub-plots during the first half of the novel. Yes, all of these sub-plots do add scale, suspense, emotional depth, narrative breadth etc… and the story does become more streamlined later, but it means that the crucial early parts of the story aren’t always as fast-paced or focused as they should be.
This wouldn’t have been too bad if this novel had used the classic splatterpunk technique of killing off most of the background characters after just one chapter, but they’ll often get at least a couple of chapters (if not more) – which bogs the story down a bit.
In terms of the characters, they’re all reasonably well-written. Like in classic splatterpunk novels, the focus is more on ordinary people rather than on soldiers, politcians, police officers etc.. Although, as mentioned earlier, the focus on introducing lots of characters near the beginning of the story does make the story feel a little bit less focused than it should be.
In terms of the writing, the novel’s third-person narration is really good. In addition to switching between more formal and more informal narration depending on the situation, the story’s narration also contains some absolutely awesome descriptions – like this one: “The church was a squat, ugly, moss-covered building that perched like a toad in a sea of mud and tangled vegetation, from which broken, slanted gravestones jutted like old teeth.”
However, one minor annoyance is that the novel randomly switches to present-tense narration during one or two chapters though. Even so, this novel is wonderfully readable 🙂
Like with the other “Zombie Apocalypse!” spin-off novel I’ve read, this one also includes a few greyscale illustrated pages too. But, most of these just seem to be pictures of blood-spattered hospital corridors and they don’t really add too much to the story. Then again, if you’re having difficulty picturing the settings, then I suppose they might come in handy.
In terms of length and pacing, this novel is ok. At 343 pages, it’s a little long by classic splatterpunk standards but on par with other modern horror novels. Likewise, although the novel becomes a lot more focused and fast-paced during the later parts, the numerous character introductions and the emphasis on suspense etc.. near the beginning means that the novel gets off to a slightly slower and less streamlined start than I would have liked.
All in all, this is a really good zombie novel. Yes, it isn’t quite perfect, but it’s still really brilliant 🙂 If you want to read a slightly more updated, modern version of the type of awesome old 1980s splatterpunk horror novels that used to be common in second-hand bookshops/charity shops a decade or two ago, then check this novel out.
If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get at least four.