“What follows is a convincing and often tense portrayal of domestic disharmony and broken, antagonistic relationships, with the added complication of a potential end-of-the-world threat looming too close to home.”
Zombies. Shambling, decaying, occasionally running, moaning, reanimated corpses (or hypnotised humans for old-school purists, and infected people to antagonise the same). It would seem that these days, the undead are everywhere; from film and TV shows, to books, graphic novels, and all manner of merchandise and various aspects of pop culture. Indeed, many would argue that there are altogether too many zombie stories, derivative and shallow, with little in the way of originality or innovation. That the sub-genre is stagnant and stale (much like the creatures themselves) and over-populated. Not since the seventies and eighties has there been such a glut of zombie fiction.
Yet, go back a decade or so, and it was not always like this. There was a time when, aside from the occasional addition by George Romero to his ‘Dead’ film series, or the odd story here and there, there was little in the way of an expansive zombie scene. Those who delved into this area must have been true aficionados of this particular monster, creating books out of a sheer love for the decaying creatures. One such writer was David Moody, who has come to be seen as both a progenitor of the modern zombie story, and a benchmark for quality. His Autumn series sparked a renewed hunger for stories of the undead, and his Hater trilogy is a zombie apocalypse epic in all but name. Both series have spawned uncountable admirers and imitators. So what is to be expected when the godfather of the zombie book returns to the genre?
An ambitious and original project, Year Of The Zombie has seen novella-length works released from the likes of Adam Baker and Rich Hawkins, and now, its creator offers his own tale. In Scratch, we are presented with a seemingly standard depiction of a localised outbreak/infection, yet the majority of the story takes place from the point of view of Jody, who, in trying to protect her three children, reluctantly—though her children are more than happy—makes her way to the house of her ex-husband in order to be safe. What follows is a convincing and often tense portrayal of domestic disharmony and broken, antagonistic relationships, with the added complication of a potential end-of-the-world threat looming too close to home.
Although a very short, lean piece of work, and moving along at a fast clip, there is still a wealth of detail and story in Scratch. Opening with a minuscule prologue which introduces the unique nature of the infection—it seems to be some kind of bacteria spread through scratches (naturally)—we quickly become acquainted with Jody. Through snippets and hints, we intuit that she has separated from her husband and bears more than a little antagonism towards him. Following an attack by the infected whilst camping with her three children, she makes for her ex-husband’s house when she realises her fuel won’t get her home. Once there, she becomes barricaded in with Gary, her ex, and his new girlfriend Charlie, which sets the scene for plenty of non-apocalypse related tensions.
And it all feels so plausible. The arguments, the antagonism, the venom, and clashes ground the story in near kitchen-sink realism, with the events of the spreading infection playing out almost as background noise, with only necessary dramatic bursts of terror to ratchet up the tension. The real meat of this story is the brittle and fractious relationship between Jody and Gary, as they bicker at and accuse each other of failings, their children both weapons and prizes in their fights. Though reader sympathies are weighted heavily on one side, it’s not all black and white, and Moody shows a deft hand in giving us both sides of the parental divide. There’s also a nice line in sardonic humour which helps to alleviate the potential melodrama of the situation, with one or two exchanges eliciting real laughs (although of the decidedly gallows humour variety). It’s also very clever in the way that it fleshes out much of the back-story—the history of Jody and Gary, their personalities—through nicely handled dialogue; a clear and expert use of show don’t tell, though both have their uses.
All in all, a very well presented, short novella, which rattles along to its conclusion with quite a few heart-stopping moments, and even a small ‘twist’ at the end. A very good example of David Moody’s considerable talents, should you really need convincing.
Publisher: Infected Books.
Ebook: (83 pp)
Release Date: 30 July 2016
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