Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Bloody Pages Book Reviews

Patient Zero
By Jonathan Maberry
St. Martin’s Griffin/Press
Review by Nickolas Cook

This is the BEST zombie novel I’ve read to date.
It even knocks Brian Keene’s classic take on the undead, THE RISING, out of its top spot.
Starring Joe Ledger, Maberry’s badass antihero--part Spenser, part Jack Bauer and all superbad—PATIENT ZERO starts fast and nasty and doesn’t let up for 400 pages. It is a hell of a thrill ride, folks.
Ex-police officer Joe Ledger thinks he’s going to join the FBI, but he’s soon being quietly drawn into a super secret government agency that reports straight to the President. His new boss, Mr. Church, is a cipher, cold blooded, without emotion. He sets Ledger up with a team of trained special ops killers to take down a vicious terrorist organization set upon loosing a nasty zombie epidemic on the world in the name of their god.
Maberry even uses the same narrative pacing device as the hit show ‘24’ by keeping strict time of the events, which take place mostly within a three day time frame. Maberry keeps the chapters short and full of character development and forward narrative thrust. He gives us the science we need, when we need, and doesn’t allow its complexity drag down the most important thing in the story: saving the world from a super virus that makes infectious living dead who rise and make more undead with their bite or scratch. Smartly, he borrows just what he needs from Romero’s zombie rules, but doesn’t turn it into another rehash of Romero’s undead world. He does acknowledge the classics- both modern and old- of the undead genre: ’28 Days Later’, ‘Dawn of the Dead’, ‘Night of the Living Dead’, etc., etc. And if you’re a true blue zombie fan, you’ll catch them all.
Another great device Maberry uses to his advantage is the switching POVs, from 1st to 3rd to keep it moving along, giving us exposition without sacrificing excitement for details.
But he also does something that isn’t so easy in a book with this sort of breakneck pace. He makes characters that leap from the page, even the villains. No one is left feeling like a cardboard cutout. Any of them could be someone you know. Well, that is if you know people who work for top secret government agencies that deal with undead on a regular basis.
But most importantly, Maberry treats his people with humanity. He acknowledges the fact that violence leaves an emotional mark, no matter how Charlie Bronson you think you might be. What makes Joe Ledger stand out is the fact that he has to switch from being a caring, loving person to a cold blooded killer with the ability to destroy with the pull of his trigger or the flick of his wrist. And he does not take that lightly. It gets to him, even though he knows the people he is killing will kill innocent people if given the chance.
Maberry knows his martial arts and his weapons. He should. The guy’s background reads a little like his antihero, Joe Ledger. He’s got extensive martial arts and combative tactics experience, along with personal knowledge of the weapons he writes about in PATIENT ZERO. He knows the work of terrorists and the tactics used by antiterrorists to prevent their violence on others.
In a word: realistic is what you get with PATIENT ZERO. A scary realism that leaves you disturbed at times.

--Nickolas Cook

The Bone Factory
By Nate Kenyon
MM paperback/$7.99
Review by Nickolas Cook

When David Pierce, a young out of work, and seemingly blacklisted, hydropower engineer is offered a dream job in the frozen waste of Jackson, Quebec City, Canada to oversee troubleshooting for a new hydro power plant he leaps at the second chance the new job offers. So he packs his bags and his family (wife Helen and their daughter Jessica, who is an innocent, naïve but very powerful precog) and away they go.
But all is not right in Jackson. There have been several strange disappearances and the new watchman that lives out in the woods on the outskirts of the hydro power plant is a little…well…off. Soon, David and his family are fighting to for their lives in the snow blasted forest where nothing is what it seems.
For all intents and purposes, Nate Kenyon’s newest release from Leisure tends to come off like a poor man’s Stephen King. He even uses a lot of the usual King tropes (or at least they were in the 80s): young psychic, down and out father, mulling and uncertain mother, small town secrets. Some would say King perfected those hoary tropes long ago. Kenyon doesn’t do them any harm, here; but neither does he give us anything new from them.
And maybe that’s not all bad, for some horror fans- those who have no issue retreading the tried and true formulas of old. But for those who are looking for exciting new voices, new angles, and new style, this may disappoint.
Some of the basic things that hurt THE BONE FACTORY?
A too slow pace. By the halfway point of the novel, nothing of significance has happened; a lot of setup, a lot of character development- not much else.
For me, Jessica’s POV feels disingenuous throughout the narrative: it’s an adult’s version of a child’s POV and it never feels real.
There are times when Kenyon’s reasoning for the family choosing to stay in a house that is so obviously NOT safe for them or their child seems shaky at best. In reality, one would hope that people who know a child has already gone missing, as have several others, in that same locale would get them to rethink their choice of living arrangements. Especially when convenience seems to be the main factor in their staying there.
Towards the end, two things occur that left me feeling bemused. Kenyon makes a huge leap in narrative logic that the killer wants a showdown with David. No where, up to that point, is there any significant setup for such a thing. It just appears out of nowhere. Another was Kenyon’s reluctance to give us the promised exciting scene of the killer’s attack on Helen and Jessica. We get the aftermath: it was all foreplay and no f**k.
One last thing that I implore Kenyon to avoid in future: do not switch from the intimate 3rd person to a remote and dry omniscient POV at end of chapters. Example: ‘And that’s how they found themselves riding in the car with the Sheriff…’ They make for very jarring transitions.
In the end, there are just too many seemingly pointless tangents and red herrings to make this more than a usual run-of-the-mill Leisure release.

--Nickolas Cook

Dark Entities
By David Dunwoody
Dark Regions Press
Review by Nickolas Cook

Reading David Dunwoody is like reading a young Clive Barker. No, seriously. I mean that. He struck me with DARK ENTITIES in much the same way Barker did with his Books of Blood short fiction back in the 80s. Like Barker, he has an ear for memorable phrasing and an eye for the apocalypse. Every short story included in this new collection is an enjoyable read, with surprisingly fresh twist on the old standard vampires, devils, demons and dead. Some are even-- dare I say it-- startlingly original. He creates finely drawn characters, complete with adult and complex emotions (for the most part) and certainly one has to say, that his characters ARE the story as much as the antagonists which they battle. That’s something a lot of newer horror writers don’t do so well. They forget that characters have to live and breathe for the story to matter beyond the turning of the next page. He has a refreshing economy with his words; never overselling his imagery, but choosing just the right palette with which to paint his pictures of death and destruction. And while there isn’t always logic to his stories, most times that plays in his favor, giving the tales a disturbingly nightmarish quality.
All in all, I am very impressed with David Dunwoody.
What I am not impressed by is the piss poor publishing effort he was given by Dark Regions Press.
The editorial mistakes are many. Just the punctuation mistakes alone would fill a page of this review.
It’s obvious a lot of the paragraphs were smashed together to save costs. There is such a thing as allowing a story to breath. If you smash it all together, so that it feels like a run on sentence with periods, then you are not doing the work justice. Empty spaces tell part of the story as well, editor.
And, finally, that has got to be the single worst excuse for an introduction ever written for a fellow author’s collection. James Roy Daley, please read the man’s material next time. I did and see how much great stuff I found to commend this guy on? Writing a flash fiction piece and sticking it in as an intro is hardly doing justice to a man with this much talent. He deserved better.
Shame on Daley and shame on the editor for giving him short shrift.
When you want to publish books of quality, there’s more to it than just finding good writers. You are also responsible for making their work shine through your own efforts behind the scenes.
That being said: buy this book for the sake of the stories and try to overlook the terrible editing job it was given.

--Nickolas Cook

Doc Good’s Traveling Show
By Gene O’Neill
Bad Moon Books
Review by Nickolas Cook

It’s not easy to write a compelling western/sci-fi/apocalyptic story in a novella format, but wunderkind author Gene O’Neill is an old hand at writing stories that keep you turning the pages to a satisfying denouement. His past works (The Burden of Indigo (2002), Shadow of the Dark Angel (2003), The Grand Struggle (2004) and White Tribe (2007)) have all managed to challenge the reader while remaining true the one golden rule of great writing: tell a good story.
In DOC GOOD’S TRAVELING SHOW, we meet two brothers, Benjy and Littlejoe, with extraordinary psi-talents who decide to leave behind their safe and lonely homestead to join a futuristic sideshow (well, we’ll call it futuristic, but O’Neill has simply moved the old west medicine show into a strange and somewhat dismal future world of mutants and humans). There they find loyalty, love and fortune. They also find mutant discrimination, death and social repression brought about by an oppressive and shadowy military/bureaucratic authority.
It’s obvious O’Neill is a fan of the old oat operas of bygone days and his love for them comes through in this story. But he also gives us a glimpse into an uncertain human future, where radiation has mutated a number of the folk who people his world.
O’Neill smartly stays away from trying to give too many details on how we got to where we are, but spends that time wisely on creating believable characters that we care about when it’s all said and done.
Give this book a shot if you’re fans of post apocalyptic fiction. It’s a great little world to get lost in and O’Neill is a wonderful tourguide.

--Nickolas Cook