This is one of the most unusual books I have ever read. Though Stephen Jones’ name appears on the cover, it is in fact the work of 20 authors all contributing pieces into a single volume.
It is the story of the end of the world through a zombie invasion after a plague pit is opened in a London graveyard to build a high-speed rail link. These dubious excavations release a mutated form of the disease. Where the story is familiar, the method is not. It is worked in a quirky style – told not through traditional narrative and dialogue, but through e-mails, police reports, medical reports, personal correspondence, tweets, text messages, diaries, audio recordings and YouTube transcripts. This proves very early on to be a highly effective method as personal stories of survival (or not) bring tension and a personal touch as the reader is forced to use their own imagination.
I thought the lack of personal interest (following many different characters in this style) might not work, but on the contrary, the personal stories within more than make up for it. Each type of document creates different emotions – the dry form of a police report is tense for its “official” air. The diary of a 13 year old girl is tense as we experience her fears. A Doctor’s report sets out the nature of the virus and how the zombies function. Real-time text messages of a man communicating with an old flame as he enlists her support to find a way out of London.
There are many pop references, to set it firmly in this or the next decade, including a couple to ‘Shaun of the Dead’ that will delight zombie flick fans. Parts of this book are surprisingly funny, mixing humour and horror with good effect, sometimes in the same source: “there’s a big group of them… I had to duck into McDonalds”
“Cool; you’ll be safe in there. Zombies only want real meat.” Even Prince Charles has a cameo as a bite victim!
A couple of things grated on me though:
There is no way that any government would allow the destruction of a grave site. There are very specific procedures to be followed for archaeological sites where bodies turn up unexpected. But this was a known graveyard with a known plague pit and the bodies were torn out of the ground and dumped in a skip… that would not happen in the 21st century.
The aforementioned Police report lost credibility due to personal observations of the Inspector whom the protagonist clearly does not like. As well as being unprofessional I can’t imagine such personal attacks being considered a normal part of an official document, even if true and even if a formal complaint was being undertaken.
In all, these are pretty minor complaints that the reader quickly learns to live with. This is one of the best horror books I have ever read and strongly recommend it.