Ginger Nuts of Horror
BY TONY JONES
“Horror is when there’s no hope left.”
Who says reviewers don’t buy books? After reading great recommendations from fellow enthusiasts it is sometimes hard not to dip the hand in the pocket… Richard Farren Barber’s “Perfect Darkness, Perfect Silence” picked up terrific reviews in both Horror Novel Reviews, written by Paula Limbaugh, and in Anthony Watson’s always excellent Dark Musings horror blog, so I could not resist splashing out on the recently released Kindle version from Hersham Horror. Both Paula and Anthony were bang to rights with their five star assessments and so I am also delighted to give this clever read the big thumbs up also.
Upon starting this novella, for a horrible few pages, I thought I had stumbled yet another zombie offering. However, I soon sighed with relief when I realised that this near post-apocalypse tale featured a deadly virus which decimates out most of the population, but otherwise was zombie free. This was a very meditative read, which moved at a slow and thoughtful pace with little in the way of action or violence. Don’t let that put you off though, as it has a lot to say about the state of the world today and was a cut above most post-apocalyptic tales. The author’s end-notes reflect upon Brexit and the position of Britain as it isolates itself from the rest of Europe. You can mull over these realities when you read this novella, equally you can leave politics aside and judge it as a fine piece of fiction. Both are equally valid trains of thought.
Hannah leads a clean-up crew whose sole job is to gather up and destroy the infected bodies of the vast numbers of people who have died very suddenly in a modern day plague, as many as 2000 bodies are scattered on the outlying fields waiting to be cleared, moved, then burned in a huge pit. The action takes place in an isolated town which has fences keeping surviving infected getting inside their perimeters. Because the other town members are vary of infection they are equally suspicious of Hannah and her crew who live in a separate part of the compound. Much of the story effectively balances the dynamics of Hannah, her job, with her colleagues Andy, Patrick and others. They are a tightknit group who trust each other, but on the other hand don’t really know each other that well.
Dr Andrew Hickman or ‘The Esteemed Leader’ is the charismatic self-appointed top-dog of the group, using motorcycle hard-men known as ‘The Caretakers’ as his muscle to control his fiefdom. The bikers also scour surrounding areas for uncontaminated survivors, who they find sparingly. The story picks up pace when Hannah questions the motives of Hickman, and what he believes they have to do to survive. This is very powerful stuff, and some very fine writing shows us that that impressive character driven scenes can have greater impact that the crash, bag, wallop of action and violence. An example would be when one of her drunken colleagues forces his way into Hannah’s bedroom, it is understated, but totally crackles with realism and humanity.
The story is told from Hannah’s point of view, keeping her sexuality private from the rest of the group she dreads finding the body of her wife Sophie amongst the piles of dead. This recent apocalypse is described quite sparingly and the author says much with very few words allowing the reader to use their own imagination. Early signs of contagion begins with gum infection and eventually spreads to painful ridges on the spine, apart from that information is kept to a minimum. Much of it is a pretty grim, but powerful read, as Hannah increasing questions what they have to do to survive up until the brutal but realistic ending.
My only criticism is as much a query as much as anything else. At a certain point the plot reveals that the virus/apocalypse is only a few weeks old. Because of this I felt the town where the plot is entirely set was too well developed and structured. Just how did these guys get organised so quickly? Hannah and her crew often come across like they have been doing this clean-up job for years, rather than weeks. Where is the chaos of the apocalypse? Maybe I missed something, but that quibble aside this was a terrific pensive look at how normal people deal with death on a catastrophic scale and the lengths some will go to survive. But for others there are lines that they will not cross, issues which are explored brilliantly in this novella. Highly recommended.
After the apocalypse, only the dead are safe.
Once the plague has swept across the world, a small community fights for survival. Hannah leads a crew disposing of the bodies of those who succumbed to the disease. It’s a horrific job – each day spent handling the infected, decaying bodies.
She and the fledgeling community must fight to survive in this stuttering dark new Britain. Will they find a way to live together, or will human nature and the problems of the old world push them to extinction?