The dead rule the world
One of the first things that I did after reading The Black Room Manuscripts was to go out and buy “Class Three” by Duncan Bradshaw. I just found his writing in “Time for Tea” to have this gleeful kind of undertow to the carnage he wrought on his tea drinkers and wanted to see what his writing was like in a longer format. And it didn’t disappoint. “Class Three” was a refreshing take on the almost done to death zombie apocalypse. Equal parts offbeat humour and splatter, it chronicled two brothers attempts to escape the dawn of the dead using their in depth knowledge of zombie films, almost slapstick humour and plenty of the old ultra violence. Throw in a religious cult, their henchmen, numerous other characters including an ex-girlfriend and a security guard called Francis and it made for an exuberant riot of a book that had me grinning like an idiot and reading in a couple of days.
So, when the opportunity came to review the sequel, Class Four, it was a definite no-brainer. And again I found myself smiling but this time for entirely different reasons. Class Four is most definitely a gear shift. It’s like comparing The Empire Strikes Back to Star Wars and, oh well…maybe not that great a comparison! The former didn’t have cannibals, zombie circus sideshows, duplicitous humans, nihilistic reanimation cults or loads of gut crunching and brain munching horror now did it? Nah, probably a better reference point might be “The Road” and its’ brooding sense of menace and desperation in a radically changed world. Class Four has this much leaner and taut feeling to it than “Class Three” that reflects the world in which its’ characters exist. And that last word really does typify the characters’ way of life. This is most definitely a world where pretty much everyone and everything that you and I would be familiar with and accustomed to is gone. Replacing it is a brutal world where the real danger is more likely to come from those people you meet on your travels rather than what is hungry for meat. And make no mistake; there is plenty of that in here. “Class Three” was definitely the aperitif to Class Four’s red, wet and bloody feast.
There is one chapter in particular where Bradshaw just puts the pedal to the metal and then pushes it through the floor. I don’t want to spoil it for you but it involves the two main protagonists encountering a very peculiar travelling show where survival is the main ticket. Bradshaw creates this demented circus of horrors that is just full on, inventive and relentless. However just concentrating on the zombies alone in this book would make it a dull and lifeless affair. The real evolution seems to have taken place in Bradshaw’s approach to story structure and characterization. That’s not to denigrate his writing. I really like the melding of horror, humour and humanity that Bradshaw infused “Class Three” with. It was a damn entertaining book and whilst Class Four is just as entertaining there is a much more assured approach and tone to the writing.
Whilst the main focus of the story is on two primary characters, Francis, who appeared briefly in “Class Three” and Nathan his young ward, Bradshaw intersperses their narrative with illustrated side stories about other survivors. These stories are centred on people holed up in a biscuit factory under the cosh of the ominously named “The Gaffer” who has a rather unique take on crime and punishment. Within this group is a self help group of “troublemakers” who are going through a form of therapy to integrate them within the wider community. As a means of introduction, Bradshaw uses an illustrative panel to set the mood and tone of what they are about to discuss. I just found this a refreshing and different approach to weaving characters into the main fabric of the story but it doesn’t distract from the main focus on Francis and Nathan. Oh yeah, and I must not forget the zombie cult that is inexorably spreading its’ warped and twisted vision across the land. All roads will indeed lead to one place in Class Four and in this case, it isn’t pretty.
And that’s where Class Four really demonstrates its’ chops. Whilst its’ predecessor is much like Shaun of The Dead in tone, this book’s comparison with “The Road” shouldn’t be taken lightly. This is altogether a much darker and meaner reading experience. Class Four has a similar type of plot whereby Francis has taken it upon himself to ensure that Nathan, his young companion, reaches comparative safety. It doesn’t quite match the unremitting bleakness, despair and sparseness of that novel as there are flashes of the wit, humour and banter that enlivened the first book but these are used sparingly in what is an altogether more serious and at times grim read. This is a world in which the human condition rather than that of the zombie is the real danger. Yes, getting cornered by hordes of shambling, rotting corpses isn’t great but the omnipresent threat is from the scattered remnants of humanity and how they have reacted to the new world order. . More than a few times Bradshaw played around with my expectations and whipped the rug out from under my feet leaving me feeling destabilised and unsure about what was coming next.
And trust me; I am most definitely looking forward to the next instalment in this series. Class Four is a total blast of a novel from beginning to end and, like its predecessor, is one of the better interpretations of the zombie apocalypse.
Click here To purchase a copy of Class Four
Horror Fiction Review by George Anderson
Ginger Nuts of Horror, The Heart and Soul of Horror Fiction Reviews