The world didn't end with a bang it ended with a sneeze. Or at least that's what drives the characters in S.L. Grey's latest novel to take shelter in what they believe to be the safest place on earth a secure underground bunker. It is a self sustaining sanctuary from the madness that is spreading across the globe thanks to some super flu that originated in China.
Things should be nice and rosy for our band of survivalists, the complex is an exclusive compound, only those wealthy enough can afford to live here, but as is wont to happen in things such as this things are about to get nasty for everyone involved. Something is killing of the inhabitants one by one, is it an inside job, or is there something much more sinister lurking in the basement?....
Under Ground is a taught, tight and claustrophobic noel that uses it's small cast of characters and the confined and limited narrative settings to great effect. Barring a few scene setting passages this novel takes places almost exclusively within the confines of the Sanctuary. The effects and the outcome of the plague sweeping the globe are second place to the events in the sanctuary, which is a bold and brave move by the authors, one that pays of in many number of ways.
By limiting the exposure to events topside the reader's attention and imagination is focused on our inhabitants, we quickly forget that there is a potential extinction event going on overhead. We are far too engrossed on who or what is killing the residents.
S.L. Grey have created a novel that is lean and tight, told in both first person and third person viewpoints, the narrative is constructed in such a way that we come to know each and everyone of the cast intimately. So when they start dropping like flies we do care about who lives and who dies. Some deaths will shock you, while you pray for the deaths of some of the other characters.
Under Ground, could easily have become, thanks to it's limited scope of locations, a dull novel, but the writers have fully capitalized on this. The Sanctuary you see isn't all that it is cracked up to be. They all thought they were buying into a high end hideout, but it turns out more corners were cut than actually finished. Hell they don't even have a doctor, instead the promised doctor is a dentist. So if they have scrimped on the medical staff imagine what other cuts had been made. Most of the cuts help to move the story along, some allow us to read tense scenes, such as when the security systems fail.
The most impressive thing about this book however, is the interplay between the characters, in true Agatha Christie style they all have their little secrets, some of which simmer under the surface, and some of which cause great tension between the residents. It's not long before they are distrusting each other.
In particular it is the interplay between what could so easily have been a cliched survivalistic family, all bedecked in camo gear and hand weapons, and a Korean family. The blatant ignorance of the camo family who thanks to their limited world knowledge, has them automatically blaming the Koreans for the plague raging above. They are unable to process the information that they aren't Chinese.
There is a real sense of tension and dread whenever these two family interact with each other, the sense of hatred is almost tangible.
Much of the story is told from the viewpoint of the children in the sanctuary, and S.L. Grey have managed to capture there voices in a believable way. Trying to write a story from a teenagers perspective is one that is full pitfalls, ones that they manage to avoid. The dialogue is crisp and clear with each character coming across as a unique member of the story's cast.
As the story unfolds you are kept guessing as to who or what the killer is, and you are always left wondering if the book is going to take a left turn into a purer more traditional form of horror. Of course I won't spoil it for you by saying if it does or doesn't suffice to say that you will keep the pages turning in a bid to find out.
Under Ground is a brilliant modern take on the last man standing type of novel crossed with a tense Towering Inferno sense of being trapped in a burning cage. It will grab your attention from the first chapter and have you hooked right up to the perfect ending, one that I didn't see it coming, will you?