Disclaimer: I was asked and provided a cover quote for Rich's début published novel. I had not read the book itself, but I had read quite a bit of Rich's other fiction and was vocal online about how good I thought it was, which led to said asking. I am also good friends with Rich. I offer this as full disclosure in case there are any accusations of 'providing a good review for a friend' or some-such. I endeavour to review everything with as much objectivity as I can and this novel will be no exception. I see no profit or mileage in giving a glowing review if that isn't sincerely the case. Peace out.
Synopsis: Four friends head to a remote cottage for a weekend of drinking, laughing and mild debauchery as they celebrate one of their number's last days of 'singledom'. Whilst there, something undefinable and unimaginable happens to the country and possibly the rest of the world. The group find communications have cut off and while heading to the nearest village they make a terrifying discovery – much of the populace has changed, into something violent, something horrific, something...alien... Thus begins a dangerous journey through now hostile territory as the four men attempt to reach their homes...and their families.
What may at first seem like a typical apocalyptic zombie style story (and yes, I know they're not zombies, although I did make that error at first) quickly becomes anything but. Yes, all the elements are here – the slow build up as the protagonists come to realise what's going on, the sporadic and violent episodes as the infected attack, the scenes of devastation and destruction, the corpses littering the streets – yet it is all handled in an extremely deft manner, especially considering it's a début novel. I think the success, certainly in the early chapters, is that Rich takes time out to show the four 'heroes' as they engage in typical displays of banter and camaraderie. There were actually a few scenes in the first few pages that had me laughing and I liked this almost jovial tone. Because it doesn't last long.
What I think Rich does very well is that he can sketch a full blooded scene in only a few words or sentences and some of those scenes are extremely affecting. The problem with some of these stories (both films and books) is that they can quickly become tedious as the writer simply throws description after description of bloody violence, people being killed, mutilation and so on. Rich uses his gore and violence sparingly and it's all the more affecting because of it. Much of the book is taken up with the four men, either together or separately, searching through various towns for...sanctuary, other survivors, answers? Anything. And every now and then utter chaos will break out. I actually felt a little queasy in a few places and it takes a lot to get me that way. Also, the scenes where the monsters appear are different each time, giving more insight to how the infected are changing, evolving. There's even a nod to a type of cosmic horror, something I love. The reason for the world shattering event is never fully explained, only hints and suppositions are given and I think this adds to the power, to the sense of doom. This is horror at its purest – bleak, hopeless and no guarantee of a happy ending. Only survival matters, each precious second a hard won battle.
Of course it's not perfect. Although well written, I know that Rich can write much better now. This book was written perhaps a couple of years back and having read more recent stories by Rich, I can see that his prose and style has grown more fluent, more confident. I also think it suffers sightly in that the characters feel not particularly distinctive from each other. While there are small descriptions of each person to delineate their personalities, I found that the dialogue almost seemed to be the same voice. Again, something I know Rich has gotten better at. But this isn't necessarily a bad thing, as it allows us to project ourselves into the story. The protagonists could almost be blank every-men and as such, a conduit for our empathy with what happens.
At its heart, though, it's the feelings that the book evokes which are important and this is manages spectacularly. Feelings of horror, dread, awe and despair permeate the pages. It's not an easy read in places, but then, it's not meant to be. But I'm a great believer in the idea that if a book or story affects you, no matter how it does that, it's achieved something. The worst thing a story can do is provoke nothing but apathy and at no level does The Last Plague do this. It also has some excellent cover art, which I think was down to publisher Adam Millard. Great stuff.
Great début and I look forward to the next instalment.
A pestilence has fallen across the land. Run and hide. Seek shelter. Do not panic. The infected WILL find you.
When Great Britain is hit by a devastating epidemic, four old friends must cross a chaotic, war-torn England to reach their families. But between them and home, the country is teeming with those afflicted by the virus - cannibalistic, mutated monsters whose only desires are to infect and feed.
THE LAST PLAGUE is here.
Paul M. Feeney
Paul M. Feeney has been watching horror films since he was a young, impressionable boy and before the lunatic hysteria reached his parent's censorship. This transferred to the written word when he was sixteen and read his first Stephen King book. He hasn't looked back since (except to check over his shoulder that there aren't any monsters following...).
The past few years have seen him turn his hand to the writing of his own fiction, in the arena of horror and the supernatural. He expects to be published soon, witH fame and riches following soon after...