With Drop Dead Gorgeous, Wayne Simmons set up an apocalypse unlike any other. His creatures were not just zombies, as you might have expected if you had read his debut novel, Flu. The monsters in DDG were all beautiful women, or Dolls, risen from the dead to wreak havoc around Belfast, their flapping eyes and terrifying hunger a sure sign that one should start to run, preferably in the opposite direction. Drop Dead Gorgeous was as bleak as it was atmospheric, which Simmons pulled off with aplomb.
Doll Parts, the much-anticipated follow-up to DDG, wastes no time in re-establishing that same disturbing uncertainty; the only difference here, however, is how quickly the action commences. Where DDG simmered, building the foundations for what was to come in the last third, Doll Parts starts with action, ends with action, and in the middle of this particular sandwich there’s a healthy dollop of, well, more action.
The fun really starts when the two groups of survivors finally converge at Belfast International Airport. The dialogue is snappy, well-timed and sometimes hilarious. Chef, an irate Australian who begrudgingly provides food to the hungry survivors within the airport, is one of the characters that benefits from some of the more light-hearted moments, though you wouldn’t want to push him too far and that becomes apparent as the novel pushes inexorably towards its final third. In Star, the heavily-tattooed, dreadlocked heroine, Simmons has created something of a female-icon, a Lara Croft for the post-apocalyptic masses. She swears, she smokes, she kicks ass, and to top it all off she can tattoo a mean pin-up. However, it is with Cole – a cross-dressing ex-soldier – that Simmons has the most fun. The interludes involving Cole’s inner-voices, Showgirl and Rabbit, are as amusing as they are disturbing, but it is these flashes that push the story forward and give tiny indications to where it might be going.
And as with any Simmons novel, nobody is invulnerable; not the person whose name you read just once a hundred pages ago, or the guy you’ve been rooting for all along. They’re all fair game as far as Simmons is concerned, and it is this little idiosyncrasy which cranks the tension up to almost Spinal Tap levels. One sequence in particular, where Cole descends into the minds of other survivors to discover their secrets and subsequent agendas, is remarkably intense, as is the action-packed set-piece surrounding it, and as the finale approaches faster than you can say George Romero, the titular Dolls are finally let off the leash.
Simmons’ decision to set the majority of the action at the airport adds a claustrophobic feel to the book, which works nicely; and the constant threat of Dolls penetrating the barricades is enough to keep you guessing who, if any, will make it to the final page.
Doll Parts succeeds because it’s not just another post-apocalyptic zombie story. With immaculately-crafted characters and several set-pieces worthy of any Hollywood blockbuster, Simmons has gone all out, and it works. As the book closes, it’s difficult to believe that Simmons has finished with this series with this one. And on the strength of Doll Parts, who wouldn’t want more?
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