Review: “Plague Town” By Dana Fredsti (Novel)

Well, I was in the mood for another zombie novel. So, I thought that I’d take a look at a novel that I’ve been meaning to read for a while. I am, of course talking about a second-hand copy of Dana Fredsti’s 2012 novel “Plague Town” that I found online a couple of weeks earlier.

Interestingly, this book seems to be the first part of a trilogy (and, yes, I’ll hopefully read the other two books at some point in the future), although it can also be enjoyed as a (mostly) stand-alone novel too.

So, let’s take a look at “Plague Town”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2012 Titan Books (UK) paperback edition of “Plague Town” that I read.

The novel begins with a short scene showing a family transforming into zombies after falling ill from a disease called “Walker’s Flu”. Then the story follows Ashley Parker, a student at a small university in the northern California town of Redwood Gove. Ashley is having a bad day.

Not only is she running late for lectures, but the lecturer’s sanctimonious assistant Gabriel berates Ashley for being late, whilst also giving annoying unsolicited dietary advice too. Once the lecture is over, Ashley meets her boyfriend Matt and both of them run into Gabriel. A hilarious scuffle between Matt and Gabriel follows, which ends with the three of them … sort of… becoming friends.

Sometime later, Ashley and Matt are having a romantic candlelit picnic on the campus grounds – when they are suddenly attacked by zombies. Ashley is bitten, but wakes up in a makeshift military hospital in the university.

Ashley’s lecturer informs her that the town has been overrun with zombies, but that she is a “wild card” – part of 0.01% of the population who are immune to the virus (and gain slightly enhanced strength, healing, senses etc.. when exposed to the virus). And, it soon becomes obvious that the military want the few immune survivors to join a secret task force dedicated to fighting the zombies….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it was a lot of fun to read πŸ™‚ The best way to describe this story is “Buffy The Vampire Slayer mixed with a late-night zombie movie” and it is absolutely awesome. There’s a really good mixture of horror, dark comedy and thrilling action scenes and it is one of those novels that is, in the best way possible, like watching a gloriously cheesy B-movie πŸ™‚

Whilst the novel’s horror elements aren’t that scary, they work really well. In addition to numerous ultra-gruesome scenes involving zombies, the novel also uses a few other types of horror too.

In addition to disease-based horror, character-based horror, suspenseful horror, tragic horror, scientific horror and post-apocalyptic horror, there’s also a brilliantly disturbing scene (involving a survivor in a cabin) that will catch you by surprise at a point where you’re just starting to think “this is turning into more of a thriller novel than a horror novel“.

Likewise, this novel is also something of an old-school zombie novel too. In other words, the zombies here are traditional slow-moving zombies (with the story even containing some sarcastic remarks about how fast zombies only exist in movies because people have short attention spans). And, whilst the story contains many familiar zombie tropes, it also does a few innovative things too… which I won’t spoil. Even so, one of the story’s zombie-related plot twists is foreshadowed so heavily that it’s fairly easy to guess.

The novel’s thriller elements are also really good too. Although the main characters have the advantages of strength and weaponry, the novel often manages to add a real sense of drama and suspense to some of the story’s many zombie battles through things like making sure that the characters are vastly outnumbered and/or have to help their wounded comrades.

Even so, at least a couple of the thrilling action scenes in this novel have all of the suspense of a superhero movie (which is to say, very little). Even so, this novel is a really enjoyable action-thriller novel.

In terms of the novel’s comedy elements, they’re absolutely brilliant. In addition to lots of amusingly sarcastic dialogue/narration and a bit of dark comedy, this is also one of those novels that is absolutely crammed with pop culture references – and most of them are really good (eg: The Evil Dead, Army Of Darkness, Tremors, Alien, Buffy, The A-Team, Romero, Fulci etc..). This novel is also a brilliantly cynical parody of a few horror/thriller tropes too – such as in a scene involving a sociopathic army general and in a segment about the value of pet cats.

The novel’s characters are surprisingly good too. Many of the characters have distinctive personalities, emotions, motivations and actual character development too (with at least a couple of unsympathetic characters becoming more sympathetic as the story progresses). Likewise, the dynamics of the zombie-fighting team and the relationships between the characters are also an important part of the story too.

Ashley is also a really cool protagonist too. Not only is she gleefully sarcastic and wonderfully badass, but she’s also the opposite of more prim and puritanical characters of this type (eg: Anita Blake, Buffy Summers etc..) too, which is really refreshing πŸ™‚ Seriously, I love how this novel will often treat any kind of self-righteousness with the merciless sarcasm it deserves πŸ™‚

The novel’s writing is also really good too. Most of the novel is narrated by Ashley, which not only gives the story a bit more personality but also allows for informal narration that is both hilarious and reasonably fast-paced too.

However, there are also a few random third-person segments which show how the zombie virus is affecting other parts of the town. Surprisingly, these perspective changes actually work really well – since they are both clearly signposted through the use of italic type and are short enough not to distract from the main story too much.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is fairly good. At 350 pages in length, this novel is pretty much on par with many modern novels and didn’t feel too long. The novel’s pacing is really good too, with the story remaining reasonably fast-paced and gripping.

The novel’s more spectacular, suspenseful and thrilling moments are also balanced out with moments of comedy and character-based drama too. In addition to this, the story’s main plot is thankfully resolved in a satisfying way – with only a small last-minute cliffhanger setting up the sequel.

All in all, this was a really enjoyable and gripping novel πŸ™‚ It contains an almost perfect mixture of horror, humour and thrills, which are backed up by good characterisation and personality-filled narration too πŸ™‚ As I mentioned earlier, reading this novel is a bit like watching a really awesome late-night B-movie. Seriously, it is a hell of a lot of fun πŸ™‚

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would just about get a five.

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Review: “Zombie Apocalypse! Horror Hospital” By Mark Morris (Novel)

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 πŸ™‚

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Zombie Apocalypse! Horror Hospital”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2014 Robinson (UK) paperback edition of “Zombie Apocalypse! Horror Hospital” that I read.

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 πŸ™‚ 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 πŸ™‚ 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 πŸ™‚

Like any good zombie story, this novel also contains a fair amount of dark humour too πŸ™‚ 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 πŸ™‚

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 πŸ™‚ 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.

Review: “Resident Evil: Caliban Cove” By S.D.Perry (Novel)

Well, although I’d planned to review a different novel today, I didn’t really get along with that novel – so, I decided to re-read S.D.Perry’s 1998 novel “Resident Evil: Caliban Cove” instead πŸ™‚ This was a novel that I first read at some point during my teenage years and, intriguingly, it’s an original spin-off story rather than a direct novelisation of one of the classic “Resident Evil” videogames.

So, although this novel is a sequel to Perry’s “Resident Evil: The Umbrella Conspiracy“, it is sort of a stand-alone story. There are lots of recaps near the beginning and the main story is reasonably self-contained. However, it is worth taking the statement on the blurb (that this novel bridges the gap between the first two “Resident Evil” videogames) with a pinch of salt.

So, let’s take a look at “Resident Evil: Caliban Cove”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 1998 Pocket Books (US) paperback edition of “Resident Evil: Caliban Cove” that I read.

The novel is set in the American city of Racoon City. Following the local S.T.A.R.S (Special Tactics And Rescue Service) team’s recent mission inside the zombie-filled Spencer mansion, there has been an official cover up by the nefarious Umbrella Corporation. The team have been discredited in the press and are suspended, pending an investigation.

Team medic Rebecca Chambers travels to Barry Burton’s house to meet up with the rest of the team and plan what to do next. When she arrives, Barry introduces her to a member of another S.T.A.R.S team called David Trapp. David is an old friend of Barry’s and has agreed to help him gather evidence against Umbrella. As such, David suggests a covert mission to infiltrate an Umbrella facility in Maine called Caliban Cove.

However, before the team can finish planning the mission, masked henchmen start shooting at Barry’s house. After a firefight that wounds Barry, the team flee to the abandoned house of their cowardly pilot Brad Vickers and lie low. After a while, they decide that – due to her scientific expertise – Rebecca should travel to Maine with David in order to investigate the mysterious Caliban Cove facility…..

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that, whilst it gets off to a reasonably slow start, it’s a fairly good sci-fi/horror thriller novel. However, it is at least slightly different in style and tone to the videogames it takes inspiration from. On it’s own merits, it’s still a fairly good novel, but don’t go into this novel expecting “Resident Evil 1.5” or anything like that.

One of the most noticeable differences are the novel’s horror elements. Whilst this novel still includes a few gruesome moments of grisly zombie horror, don’t expect the kind of all-out gorefest that Perry offered in “Resident Evil: The Umbrella Conspiracy”. Instead, the majority of this novel’s horror elements consist of suspenseful horror, character-based horror and medical/scientific horror.

The story’s attitude towards monster design is pretty interesting too. The main “monster” of the story is a megalomaniacal scientist called Griffiths who has refined the zombie virus to the point where he can use it to control the zombies. Whilst this does result in some rather silly elements (eg: teams of zombies with machine guns), it is used to brilliantly chilling effect in the scenes showing how Griffiths has turned some of his co-workers into zombified slaves.

The novel’s thriller elements are pretty interesting too, with slightly more focus on suspense and exploration than combat. For the most part, this works reasonably well, with the suspense being increased via things like David’s team losing their boat, the squads of armed zombies prowling the grounds or the fact that a character starts slowly succumbing to the zombie virus.

However, the novel’s suspense is undercut somewhat by the fact that David’s team stays together for most of the story. One of the things that made the original games so suspenseful was the fact that the characters are frequently separated from each other and, for the most part, this novel doesn’t include too much of this. Likewise, the reader also gets to see a lot of Griffiths’ evil schemes before the other characters do, which kind of ruins the mystery slightly.

Like in the videogames, the characters also have to solve a series of puzzles in order to progress. Although there is an explanation for these puzzles (eg: a scientist hid something in the zombie training area), they seem a little bit more random and contrived than usual. In other words, they seem more like an episode of “The Crystal Maze” than a natural part of the story. Even so, the glorious silliness of these parts of the story is wonderfully reminiscent of the classic “Resident Evil” games.

In terms of the characters, they’re fairly good. In addition to an extended cameo from series regulars Barry Burton, Jill Valentine and Chris Redfield at the beginning, the novel mostly focuses on Rebecca Chambers – and adds some extra depth to a character who was, at the time the novel was written, little more than a background character in the first videogame.

Likewise, the new characters (eg: David and his teammates Karen, John and Steve) are all reasonably well-written and, of course, Griffiths is a brilliantly creepy villain too. Whilst you shouldn’t expect ultra deep characterisation, there’s enough characterisation here to make you care about the characters.

In terms of the writing, Perry’s third-person narration is a reasonably good mixture of informal fast-paced thriller narration and more descriptive narration. Since the novel focuses on Rebecca, there’s a little bit more scientific jargon in this story than you might expect. Even so, the narration fits the story really well and helps to keep everything compelling.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is fairly good. At 242 pages, this novel is gloriously concise and can be enjoyed in just a few hours πŸ™‚ The novel’s pacing is mostly fairly good, consisting of lots of slower moments of suspense punctuated by frantic moments of action and horror. However, the first forty pages or so of this novel (which mostly consist of recaps, dialogue etc…) are far too slow-paced for a story of this type. A good thriller novel should start with something thrilling.

As for how this twenty-one year novel has aged, it has aged reasonably well. Although there are possibly a couple of mildly dated descriptions, the story is both timelessly gripping and wonderfully ’90s at the same time. Everything from the random silliness of some parts of the story, to the 1990s suburbia setting of the novel’s early scenes, to the story’s “classic Resident Evil”-style elements are a wonderful source of ’90s nostalgia πŸ™‚

All in all, whilst this novel is kind of like “Resident Evil lite”, it’s both a reasonably fun (if a little silly) spin-off story and a fairly suspenseful sci-fi/horror thriller novel. If you’re a fan of the series, then this novel is an interesting addition to it.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would just about get a four.

Review: “Dead Of Night” By Jonathan Maberry (Novel)

Well, although I had slightly mixed feelings about Jonathan Maberry’s “Patient Zero“, I took a look online after I’d finished reading it and I happened to notice that he’d written other zombie novels too.

So, since a second-hand copy of Maberry’s 2011 novel “Dead Of Night” was going cheap, I thought that it might be worth taking a look at.

So, let’s take a look at “Dead Of Night”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS. In fact, the blurb on the back of the book also contains a major backstory SPOILER too.

This is the 2011 St.Martin’s Press (US) paperback edition of “Dead Of Night” that I read.

The novel begins in the rural American town of Stebbins, Pennsylvania with a mortician called Hartnup dying from a zombie-related injury. A body has risen from the slab and bitten him, and now he is also turning into a zombie too….

Some time later, a tough-as-nails police officer called Desdemona Fox gets a call from her partner JT telling her that there has been a call from the local new age funeral home. When they get there, they are greeted by a grisly scene of death and destruction. Of course, it isn’t long before one of the bodies turns out to be not quite as dead as Desdemona had thought…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it’s a really brilliant zombie novel πŸ™‚ Not only is this novel a fairly intense horror story, but it’s also very gripping and it has a lot of personality (which Maberry’s “Patient Zero” lacked slightly). Whilst some parts of this novel are fairly clichΓ©d, this is a gloriously compelling late-night grindhouse B-movie of a novel πŸ™‚

I should probably start by talking about the novel’s horror elements. Although this novel isn’t outright scary, it’s suspenseful, intense, disturbing, bleak/depressing and shocking at times.

In addition to lots of ultra-gruesome splatterpunk elements (including the classic technique of introducing… short-lived… background characters), the novel also includes many wonderfully creepy/disturbing moments of psychological horror, character-based horror, bleak horror, governmental horror, societal horror, claustrophobic horror, moral horror, death horror, body horror and cruel horror.

The novel’s stand-out moments of horror include things like chapters focusing on how one of the zombies sees the world, a chilling monologue delivered by a serial killer, some creepy descriptions of the US foster care system, scenes where characters recognise people who have been zombified etc.. Seriously, this is more than just a zombie novel. It’s a horror novel too.

The zombie elements of the story are kind of interesting. Whilst there’s a fairly inventive reason behind the zombie apocalypse (which the novel’s blurb spoils!), this novel is clearly aimed at people who are new to the zombie genre. For starters, it’s set in a fictional world where the only zombie movies any of the characters have heard of are old films from the 1930s-50s.

As such, fans of the zombie genre might find a few scenes to be somewhat patronising – such as how it takes the main characters a surprisingly long time to finally come to the obvious realisation that they have to aim for the head when fighting zombies.

Even so, all of this stuff lends the novel a slightly “traditional” kind of atmosphere and, given the novel’s dedication to George A. Romero, this seems to have been a deliberate creative decision. After all, when “Night Of The Living Dead” was first released, the zombie genre was still a fairly new thing and this modern novel tries to recapture this moment in the genre’s history.

This novel is also something of a suspenseful thriller novel too, and in a lot of ways, it’s almost a little bit like an American version of Shaun Hutson’s “Erebus” – which is never a bad thing πŸ™‚ In addition to the claustrophobic small town setting, the main characters are also constantly in danger from multiple sources (eg: zombies, a hurricane, the government etc..) throughout the story. Plus, the novel also makes subtle use of other thriller novel techniques – such as shorter chapters, multiple plot threads, mini-cliffhangers etc… too.

In terms of the characters, they’re surprisingly good. Although most of the characters initially appear to be cheesy, two-dimensional stock characters (eg: the tough-as-nails heroine, the by-the-book cop, the intrepid reporter, the mad scientist, the evil serial killer etc…), they quickly gain a lot of extra detail and psychological depth as the story progresses. Seriously, this is the kind of novel that will even make you care about what happens to one of the zombies.

In terms of the writing, this novel is brilliant πŸ™‚ Unlike the generic thriller novel narration in Maberry’s “Patient Zero”, this novel actually has personality and a distinctive narrative voice πŸ™‚

The third-person narration in this novel is often a wonderfully playful mixture of formal, atmospheric descriptions and the kind of irreverent, informal narration that feels like the text equivalent of a Quentin Tarantino or Robert Rodriguez movie πŸ™‚ Seriously, the writing has a level of personality which I haven’t really seen since I read Jack O’Connell’s “Box Nine“, Jodi Taylor’s “A Trail Through Time” or Weston Ochse’s “Empire Of Salt“.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is reasonably good. At 357 pages in length, it never quite feels bloated. Likewise, this story remains fairly gripping throughout – with the story constantly moving forward at a reasonable pace – which is slow enough to be suspenseful, but fast enough to make you want to read more. Plus, the pacing is slightly closer to that of a horror novel than an action-thriller novel too πŸ™‚

All in all, this novel is a really great zombie novel. Yes, it’s a little bit cheesy or clichΓ©d at times, but this is a gripping, well-written zombie novel that is also a good horror story too. It’s a late-night grindhouse movie of a novel, it’s a modern splatterpunk novel, it’s a perfect introduction for people who are new to the zombie genre, it’s a suspenseful thriller and it has personality.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would just about get a five.

Review: “Resident Evil: The Umbrella Conspiracy” By S. D. Perry (Novel)

Well, a while after I finished the previous novel I’d reviewed, I was still in the mood for some relaxing literary comfort food. Naturally, my thoughts turned back to an old favourite of mine that I’ve been meaning to re-read for ages. I am, of course, talking about S.D.Perry’s 1998 novel “Resident Evil: The Umbrella Conspiracy”.

This is a novel that I first discovered when I was about thirteen or fourteen and, along with classic 1980s splatterpunk horror novels like Shaun Hutson’s “Erebus“, it showed me how utterly awesome novels can be πŸ™‚ Yes, I’d read other novels before then, but these old 1980s/90s horror novels were the things that really got me interested in reading (and writing too).

Not only that, S.D.Perry’s “The Umbrella Conspiracy” (and it’s sequels) were based on the classic “Resident Evil” games – which were one of my favourite computer/video game series at the time. Perry’s novels were everything that my younger self had really wanted these slow-paced, atmospheric survival horror games to be – fast-paced, ultra-gruesome, pulse-pounding thrillers.

So, yes, this novel made quite an impression on me when I was younger πŸ™‚ But, I was curious to see how I’d react to it now that I actually am one of the “mature readers” which the patronising content warning on the back cover recommends the book for.

So, let’s take a look at “The Umbrella Conspiracy”. Needless to say, this review may contain SPOILERS.

This is the 1998 Pocket Books (US) paperback edition of “Resident Evil: The Umbrella Conspiracy” that I re-read πŸ™‚

The novel begins in the near-future year of 1998 (the original videogame came out in 1996), with a series of newspaper reports describing a series of mysterious grisly deaths in the forests surrounding the American city of Racoon City. The reports speculate that cannibals or wild animals are behind the horrific killings.

With mounting concern about the deaths, the local police chief authorises the force’s elite special tactics units (“S.T.A.R.S”) to go in and investigate. But, when Bravo team loses radio contact with HQ, S.T.A.R.S leader Albert Wesker decides to send Alpha team into the forest. As their helicopter gets closer to the forest, they notice a pall of smoke from a crashed helicopter. Bravo team’s helicopter!

After landing near the crashed chopper, Alpha team notices that it is completely abandoned. During a search of the surrounding woodland, Alpha team soon find the dismembered remains of one member of Bravo team. But, seconds later, they are menaced by ferocious mutant dogs. Fleeing for their lives, Alpha team find a disused mansion and take shelter inside. But, far from being a sanctuary, they have unknowingly entered the world of survival horror…..

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that, even though I’ve read it before and even though I’m very familiar with the game it’s based on, it was still just about gripping enough for me to read all of it within a single day. Yes, this novel will be more suspenseful and dramatic if you haven’t played the game. But, even if you know everything about the story, then it’s still a fairly atmospheric and gripping novel.

And, although this novel isn’t that scary, it’s still a brilliant horror novel. Not only do the earlier parts of the novel build up ominous suspense quite well, but the novel’s creepy mansion setting also has the kind of gloomy, claustrophobic atmosphere that you would expect too. Plus, as mentioned earlier, this novel turns the gruesome elements of the source material up to eleven – giving this novel the macabre, vicious and grisly atmosphere that the original game lacked somewhat.

Likewise, this novel works really well as a thriller novel too. Since the main characters quickly find themselves separated when they enter the mansion, this allows the novel to jump between different areas and include lots of mini-cliffhangers. In addition to this, the main characters are frequently menaced by an assortment of zombies and mutant monsters, which gives the story much more of an action-packed feel. This fast-paced combat is also expertly contrasted with slower moments of puzzle-solving, suspense and characterisation too. Seriously, this is a thriller novel πŸ™‚

As for how good an adaptation it is, it’s a really great one. Since “Resident Evil” is more of a story/puzzle/exploration-based game than an action game, it translates really well to a novel format – with Perry also being able to expand on all of the characters’ backstories in a way that really makes you care about them.

In addition to this, the novel also cleverly interweaves the game’s two campaigns (Jill’s campaign and Chris’ campaign), allowing the story to include many of the best moments from both of them. Plus, a few of the game’s signature lines of dialogue/text (eg: “You were almost a Jill Sandwich”, “…pecked to death by crows”, “Itchy. Tasty” etc…) also make an appearance too πŸ™‚

The novel also takes a few interesting creative liberties which really help to keep the reader on their toes too. Not only does a mysterious new character called Trent (who is expanded upon more in Perry’s “Resident Evil: Underworld”, if I remember rightly) make a couple of cryptic appearances, but there are also a few amusing moments – such as Jill taking a much more common sense attitude towards a few of the game’s contrived puzzles (eg: just shattering the glass in the statue room, just climbing down the outdoor lift shaft etc..) too.

As for the writing, it’s really good. Perry’s third-person narration strikes just the right balance between being atmospherically descriptive and grippingly fast-paced. It’s written in a fast-paced, informal “matter of fact” way that allows you to blaze through the whole thing in a single day – but there’s enough description and formality to really give the story a sense of depth (compared to the game). In classic splatterpunk fashion, many of the novel’s most elaborate descriptions are also often reserved for moments of grisly, grotesque horror too πŸ™‚

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is really great πŸ™‚ Not only is it an efficient 262 pages in length, but the novel’s pacing is utterly brilliant too – with a really good contrast between fast-paced action scenes and slower moments of suspense and characterisation. Seriously, even if you know the story by heart, then this novel is still fairly gripping.

As for how this twenty-one year old novel has aged, it’s aged really well. Yes, there are a few obviously “90s” elements (such as a “futuristic” PDA that is more primitive than a modern smartphone) but, for the most part, this novel has lost none of it’s atmosphere, intensity and drama. Plus, of course, if you’ve played the original “Resident Evil” game, then this novel is a wonderful nostalgia-fest too πŸ™‚

All in all, this novel is an absolutely brilliant adaptation of “Resident Evil” πŸ™‚ If you’ve never played the game, then the story will be a lot more suspenseful. If you have played the game, then this novel is a deeper, more expanded and more intense version of a familiar story πŸ™‚ Regardless, it’s a wonderfully gripping horror thriller novel. Yes, whilst it didn’t quite evoke the feeling of wide-eyed awe that I felt when I read this novel for the very first time, it’s still a very gripping and well-written novel.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would just about get a five.

Review: “Patient Zero” By Jonathan Maberry (Novel)

Well, I thought that I’d look at a book that I’ve been meaning to read for a while. Originally, I’d planned to read Jonathan Maberry’s 2009 novel “Patient Zero” soon after finishing another zombie novel called “Zombie Apocalypse! Acapulcalypse Now” by Alison Littlewood.

However, for some reason, my second-hand copy of “Patient Zero” ended up languishing near the bottom of my “to read” pile for at least a month or two.

So, let’s take a look at “Patient Zero”. Needless to say, this review may contain SPOILERS.

This is the 2010 Gollancz (UK) paperback edition of “Patient Zero” that I read.

The novel begins in America, where a policeman called Joe Ledger is relaxing on the beach – before suddenly being approached by two FBI agents. Although Joe worries that this might have something to do with the violent counter-terrorism raid he took part in a few days earlier, he isn’t sure why the FBI are interested in him. The agents escort him to an interrogation room.

Some time later, Joe is joined by a mysterious fellow called Mr.Church, who wants to recruit him for a top-secret task force called the Department Of Military Sciences (DMS) due to both Joe’s military background and the fact that he showed no hesitation in combat during the counter-terrorism raid. However, there is one final test. Joe has to walk into another room and handcuff a criminal.

When Joe enters the room, he notices that the criminal in question is one of the terrorists he shot during the raid. Not only that, the man is still very much alive. In fact, he seems to be some kind of ferocious, flesh-eating zombie

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it’s a really interesting mixture of genres. Although it’s a fast-paced modern militaristic thriller novel in the tradition of writers like Lee Child, Clive Cussler etc.. (a genre I went off of slightly after binge-reading eight of these novels in a row a few months ago) it is kept dramatic and interesting thanks to the inclusion of zombies πŸ™‚

In a lot of ways, this novel reminded me a bit of the first “Resident Evil” movie, thanks to it’s claustrophobic action scenes, sci-fi elements, military/industrial theme and zombie virus storyline.

Likewise, although “Patient Zero” is more of a thriller novel than a horror novel, it thankfully doesn’t skimp on the horror too much. In addition to lots of fast-paced suspenseful horror and several well-placed scenes of gory horror, the novel has a surprising focus on moral/psychological horror too.

In other words, the psychological effects of having to shoot zombified civilians take their toll on the main characters throughout the story. Although this element is focused on a little too much, it helps to prevent the story from turning into too much of a generic action-thriller novel.

Plus, the zombie-related elements of the story are pretty interesting too. At one point, the novel contains a scientific lecture about how the zombie virus works and this allows the story to introduce some interesting elements (eg: zombies become dormant in cold temperatures, they are driven to spread the virus rather than eat people, the zombie virus is stored in the brainstem/spine, the zombies aren’t technically dead etc..).

However, for the most part, the zombies are pretty standard “aim for the head!” horror movie zombies, albeit of the modern fast-moving variety. But, as the novel progresses, a more intelligent type of also zombie appears too.

The novel’s action-thriller elements are really good. Since the main focus is on containing the zombie virus before it spreads, most of the zombie-related fight scenes tend to happen in claustrophobic, confined settings – which really helps to add a lot of immediacy, suspense and grittiness to these scenes.

These thrilling action scenes are also complemented by some rather suspenseful sub-plots. In addition to chapters that show what the villains are getting up to, there’s also a rather suspenseful, paranoia-filled sub-plot about a saboteur gaining access to the DMS’s secret base. All of this helps to ensure that the novel’s slower and quieter moments still remain reasonably gripping.

But, whilst the novel’s thriller elements are certainly thrilling, this novel reads a lot like something from early-mid 2000s America in terms of it’s “war on terror” theme and attitudes. Even so, the novel does try to add some nuance via a few dialogue scenes (and some British characters and references, which were kind of cool to see) but, for the most part, this novel reminded me a bit of US TV shows like “24” and “NCIS”. Yes, like those TV shows, it’s still very gripping – but this element of the story is probably a little bit overbearing.

As for the characters in this novel, they’re fairly interesting. Whilst you shouldn’t expect ultra-deep characterisation, the main characters have enough depth to keep them interesting. Whether it’s Joe’s conversations with his psychologist (Rudy), a sarcastic DMS scientist called Dr. Hu, the tough SAS major who is second-in-command, the mysterious Mr. Church or even a couple of the villains (eg: a greedy industrialist and his sarcastic henchman), many of the characters in this novel are distinctive and interesting enough to stop the story from feeling too generic.

As for the writing in this novel, it’s interesting. One strange technique that Maberry uses is to alternate between first and third person perspective in different chapters. Surprisingly, this doesn’t turn the novel into a disorientating mess. Although it surprised me at first, it was pretty easy to get used to thanks to both clear signposting at the beginning of each chapter and the fact that Maberry’s narrative voice remains pretty similar in both first and third-person scenes (which keeps the story flowing, despite the frequent perspective changes).

In terms of the actual narration itself, it’s reasonably standard fast-paced modern thriller novel stuff and it does the job reasonably well. Likewise, the novel also has a sense of humour too, which helps to keep things interesting. Plus, this novel also includes more than it’s fair share of pop culture and technology references – and, although most of these still hold up reasonably well when read today, they’ll probably end up dating the novel quite a bit in another decade or two.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is reasonably good. Although it’s almost 500 pages long, the novel is written in a fairly fast-paced way which means that the story never really feels too long. Likewise, the novel expertly balances and contrasts slower and more suspenseful scenes with thrillingly fast-paced scenes of pulse-pounding action too. So, the length and pacing are reasonably good.

All in all, this is a rather fun twist on a rather familiar and generic type of story. Yes, if you want a gripping, gruesome, action-packed zombie thriller novel, you’re probably better off reading S.D.Perry’s “Resident Evil” novelisations or possibly “Erebus” by Shaun Hutson. But, even so, this novel is like a gripping modern military thriller novel, but with zombies πŸ™‚

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get about a four.

Review: “The Laughing Corpse” By Laurell K. Hamilton (Novel)

Well, although I had mixed feelings about Laurell K. Hamilton’s 1993 novel “Guilty Pleasures“, I thought that I’d check out the next one in the series – “The Laughing Corpse” (1994).

This is mostly because not only did I realise that it was a zombie novel (and I haven’t read one of these in a while), but also because I bought three of Hamilton’s “Anita Blake” novels in a charity shop last year and I’ve been meaning to read more of them.

Although this is the second novel in a series, it is pretty much a stand-alone novel. Yes, there are some background details and sub-plots that will make very slightly more sense if you’ve read “Guilty Pleasures”, but the main story is a stand-alone story and the background details are explained via recaps.

So, let’s take a look at “The Laughing Corpse”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2009 Headline (UK) paperback edition of “The Laughing Corpse” that I read.

Set in St.Louis, Missouri – the story follows professional necromancer, police consultant and part-time vampire hunter Anita Blake. Anita and her boss, Bert, have been summoned to the house of a multi-millionaire called Harold Gaynor. Gaynor is willing to pay Anita a million dollars if she raises a two-hunrded and eighty-three year old corpse from the dead.

However, the older a body is the larger the sacrifice needed to raise it becomes. For a body that old, only a human sacrifice will be sufficient. Needless to say, Anita refuses the job. But, although she and Bert walk out of the house in one piece, it’s clear that Gaynor will not take no for an answer.

Not only that, Anita gets a call from the police a while later. They need her help with an especially grisly murder case. It doesn’t take Anita long to work out that the crime has been carried out by something undead. Not only that, it also seems to be part of a series of murders….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it’s certainly an improvement on the previous novel in the series πŸ™‚ Not only is it a reasonably gripping detective/ action thriller novel, but it’s also a pretty decent horror novel too. It’s also a little bit more focused and confidently written than the previous novel too.

I should probably start by talking about the horror elements of the story. Not only does this novel contain some reasonably creepy paranormal horror, suspenseful horror, implied horror, moral horror, criminal horror, character-based horror and body horror, but it also includes a decent amount of gory horror too.

Whilst this isn’t quite a splatterpunk novel, it certainly comes close to one during a few gruesome moments. Plus, although most of these grisly moments are played fairly seriously, there is also some absolutely hilarious dark comedy (eg: detectives throwing body parts around a crime scene etc..) during one of them which really helps to lighten the mood a bit.

The novel also has a rather inventive take on the zombie genre too. Whilst the zombies in this story are of the traditional Voodoo variety, they can also act a bit like more traditional horror movie zombies when ordered to do so (or if angered). Likewise, the zombies in this story also run the gamut from intelligently articulate former humans to shambling undead horrors, which helps to keep things unpredictable.

This variety also allows the story to use multiple types of zombie horror too. In addition to allowing for lots of moral horror (eg: evil experiments involving zombies, people using zombies as slave labour etc..), this also allows the story to include some wonderfully grotesque and suspenseful “horror movie”-like scenes involving the undead too.

In terms of the story’s detective/thriller elements, they’re really good too. In a lot of ways, this story has more of a “modern film noir” kind of atmosphere to it with Anita finding herself in the middle of a dangerous web of criminal intrigue where multiple groups of criminals are out to get her.

Not only does this keep the story thrillingly suspenseful and fast-paced, but it also allows for a slightly more “noir” style plot too. Plus, although this story is slightly more of a thriller novel than a traditional detective story, the murder mystery at the heart of the story is still intrguingly mysterious.

The writing in this novel is reasonably good too. Like with “Guilty Pleasures”, the novel is narrated by Anita and – as you would expect in a noir-influenced detective thriller novel – the story is told in a reasonably fast-paced, informal and “matter of fact” kind of way. In addition to this, the story is also peppered with cynical and sarcastic comments and observations from Anita too. Although most of these are fairly amusing and/or dramatic, at least a couple of them come across as annoyingly self-righteous, mean-spirited and/or judgemental.

In terms of the characters, they’re reasonably good. Whilst you shouldn’t expect ultra-complex characterisation, the characters are certainly a reasonably interesting bunch of people. Not only are the villains all suitably creepy, evil and generally disturbing – but there are also a few interesting background characters too.

Likewise, although Anita is pretty much the same character she was in “Guilty Pleasures”, she gets a bit of character development too. Not only does her obsession with carrying guns everywhere make a bit more sense in the context of this story, but there’s also a little bit of focus on how she tries to reconcile her supernatural powers with her religious beliefs (and, a couple of moments aside, she also comes across as a little bit less self-righteous/preachy in this story too). Plus, the story also devotes a little bit of time to Anita’s complicated relationship with Jean-Claude (from the previous novel) too.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is reasonably good. At about 340 pages in length, this novel never really feels too long and, as you would expect from a thriller novel, the story travels along at a reasonably fast pace too πŸ™‚

As for how this twenty-five year old novel has aged, it’s aged reasonably well. Yes, a few moments of this story seem a bit dated and/or “politically incorrect” by modern standards – but, for the most part, this is the kind of story that could very easily be set in the present day. Plus, the story’s thriller elements still remain suitably gripping and the story’s horror elements still remain suitably macabre and disturbing too.

All in all, this story is a definite improvement on “Guilty Pleasures” πŸ™‚ Not only are the horror elements a bit more gruesome and creepy, but the story’s detective/thriller elements feel a bit more focused, compelling and suspenseful too. Plus, it’s a zombie novel too πŸ™‚

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would probably get four and a half.