Tuesday, 13 September 2011
Book Review: "Dead Beat" by Remy Porter
"Haven, Population: 2000.
A place where Johnny sleepwalks the beat, counting down the hours to the end of another police shift. Burying the secret deeper.
But this is the day the world ends. The infection has spread unchecked, and now the dead have domain. Johnny is thrown into a fight to survive. The shattered community around him willing to do anything to stay alive.
But as putrefacted bodies close in, it's the villager's rotten hearts he begins to fear the most ... And beyond them the puppetmasters who started it all."
I'm not a fan of Horror. I usually find works in this genre to be by-the-numbers gore, with the only variation being in the level of imagination, and the amount of escalation, applied to the deaths.
And at first my opinion was confirmed. Page one starts with a grisly killing, and the early section of the book treats the reader to an impressive variety of horror-movie style shambling zombie attacks, near misses, zombie heads exploding and people getting jumped out at, left right and centre. And if that's the sort of thing you like, you'll be very happy.
Once the zombies have taken over and survivors begin banding together I was only mildly interested in the traditional horror-movie fightback. Then the character Jack Nation played his hand, and I was absolutely hooked.
Once the survivors work together and make a concerted effort it seems that they are able quite easily to fight the zombies, take back territory and even return to some semblance of normal existence. As the humans adjust it became clear that the main battle lines in the book were to be drawn not between human and zombie, but between human and human.
The tension between the Police Station and the Farm was well depicted, and the subtle nuances of human behaviour well illustrated. I particularly enjoyed the fact that although Johnny's community was more civilised the majority of the population chose to remain under the tyrannical rule of Jack at the Farm. I felt this section had a lot to say about the herd nature of the community, their attraction to strength, and their obedience to commands. Most of them were bland and nondescript and perfectly echoed their undead counterparts.
We don't know any of the characters before the advent of the apocalypse, and we are reminded of this fact late on in the book. Our previous judgements, which have been based solely on the response to the crisis are slightly revised and a note of caution enters.
The main characters Johnny and Summer didn't really engage my attention. There was a little too much bland heroism, and I felt Johnny's darkness could have been explored more deeply. I didn't really believe their love story as its beginnings were skated over, and lacked subtlety.
The two most vivid characters were Jack, and the criminally (pardon the pun) under-used Lester, whose life is rebuilt as the world crumbles around his ears. These characters were explosive, humorous and sinister by turns and I would have liked Lester's early research to yield more results, and his part in the story developed more strongly.
You never really find out the cause of the apocalypse, which normally would have bothered me. But in this book it's actually not that important to know the hows and whys, it's not a deconstruction of the zombies, it's an exploration of the atrocities humanity inflicts upon itself, even when facing extinction.
I thought this was a well-paced, tightly plotted novel and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. The various plot lines were introduced with skill and perfect timing and the late additions of the Kateyana and Alice/Trent issues helped to develop Johnny's character.
Although the book would have benefitted from a little tighter editing I found it to be a strong work which bucked against the trends of its genre.