Audiobook Review: The Dead Boy by Craig Saunders

“Saunders has done a remarkable job of breathing life into every single character, giving them their own personalities and humanity.”

The Dead Boy by Craig Saunders - coverHaving published more than thirty novels and novellas, the first a mere six years ago, Craig Saunders has gained a reputation as a hardworking and productive author of horror, fantasy and humour stories. He has established an effective working relationship with noted publishers DarkFuse, and other publishers, but considers himself a hybrid author. This led him to establish his own imprints for his horror work (Dark Fable Books) and his fantasy work (Fable Books). His most recent release was Highwayman (DarkFuse, 2017), but he has been working to make his back catalogue available in an audio format and he has enlisted the services of narrator Molly King for this work. The Dead Boy is his latest audiobook release.

The story begins with a late summer visit to the local supermarket for nine-year-old George Farnham and his father David. What begins as a simple chore soon explodes into dramatic violence with an elderly opportunistic kidnapper called Wayland Redman who snatches George into his van before speeding onto the motorway. What follows is an explosive action sequence when David, giving chase on foot, causes a pile-up involving many vehicles, including an army truck full of a strange chemical compound. Saunders does an excellent job of grabbing our attention with such a fast-paced opening. The number of characters seems a little daunting at first, but we soon realise that not all of them will last beyond the first few minutes. Saunders isn’t afraid to take out any of his characters. This is an apocalyptic tale after all.

What seems like a terrible accident soon takes on a more sinister turn given the introduction of Kurt William O’Dell, the man with fire in his eyes, who just wants to watch the world burn. We soon discover that he organised the seemingly random kidnapping to instigate the crash that would release a toxic cloud into the air. The effects of this compound varied from causing increasingly aggressive and disturbing behaviour in the exposed, to the reanimation of the deceased. O’Dell’s team soon extend the field test to include the whole quarantined town. But he didn’t reckon on the extent of George’s gift.

Despite the testing of the compound, O’Dell’s sinister plans go even further. George is not the first child that Redman has abducted for O’Dell. In fact, he has a huge collection of victims held against their will, O’Dell feeding on their collective power to enhance his own abilities and aid him in his diabolical schemes. But George isn’t about to lie down and leave him to his wicked ways. He has a plan. But he needs help from a great supporting cast of characters.

Being an audiobook, we should probably take a moment to talk about the performance of the narrator. Molly King is a resident of Texas, USA and has recently discovered a love for narration, developing a particularly good working relationship with Saunders. For the most part, King does a wonderful job of giving every character their own style and voice. She captures the emotion of each scene and delivers every line in a clear and entertaining way.

Saunders does a brilliant job of delivering a fresh take on the apocalypse tale. Rather than looking at the global ramifications, he has chosen to focus on the story of a select few, and what a story it is. It is gripping from start to finish, from the explosive opening to the dark and oppressive atmosphere of “The Mill” facility and the desperate last stand beginning on a North Sea oil rig and ending at O’Dell’s secret tower blocks. But the real stars of the book are the characters. Saunders has done a remarkable job of breathing life into every single character, giving them their own personalities and humanity. Indeed, even the “bad guys” are given their own mannerisms and foibles, backstories and touches of humanity. Saunders’s ability to do this only lead the listener to become more invested in the fates of these characters and, coupled with the great action and storytelling, provides a thrilling tale that will keep our attention until the very end.

THOMAS JOYCE

Publisher: Craig Saunders
Audiobook: 7 hours and 58 minutes
Release Date: 8 December 2016

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