Shaun Jeffrey’s third novel steers away from the psychological chills and trauma of his past two titles, delivering a more direct horror hit as he ventures into zombie territory. Rather than opting for the apocalyptic vision that many are penning, Jeffrey delivers a zombie novel where the threat is contained in a small mining village.
Protagonist Amber Redgrave labels herself as a security consultant, yet the very terms she loathes, mercenary and bodyguard, provide a more apt description. After an early morning tragedy and consequential shake up, she takes a phone call that sees her self-enrolling and taking charge of a mission to rescue two children who have been abducted by rogue ex-soldiers. However, upon arriving it is apparent that this rescue mission was a ruse. There are neither children nor soldiers, but rather an undead conglomerate. Alongside this narrative, animal activists and eco-warriors, Lofty and Jill, stumble upon a hidden test facility where dogs are victimised and mistreated. Unfortunately for our ethical crusaders the horrors inside the facility threaten more than just canines.
Jeffrey has gone to some length to ensure that Deadfall isn’t just another clichéd zombie novel. The closed threat lends itself to a much more claustrophobic scrawl of terror than the free roaming world apocalypse. Jeffrey utilises this fully as characters are frequently launched into tight, restricted spaces fearing for their lives. This is particularly apparent as Lofty and Jill learn more about the corrupt secret they have stumbled upon. Yet Jeffrey goes further, raising questions about authority, our friends and if there is anybody we can truly trust. He’s certainly not raising radical areas of unexplored contention, but he does take the reader away from the ravaging and into the realms of thought. Jeffrey has also taken care to differentiate his zombies with simple and effective subtleties that don’t go as far as to ostracise die-hard zombie fans, but do breathe life into the undead masses.
There are moments in Deadfall that will grab you by the collar and fully immerse you, yet there are other times you’ll feel despondent. At its pinnacle this is an engaging, exciting, fun filled zombie thriller, yet at its worst it is frustrating, cliché and quite frankly unbelievable. Readers may wonder if Jeffrey is deliberately toying with them, for just as interest wanes he’ll deliver a hook too satisfying to resist, yet a few chapters later Deadfall will lapse and disappointment hits. To minimise feelings of despair, one must take Deadfall for what it is, a non-stop action zombie fest with imaginative deaths, carnage and a spark of originality. Jeffrey scratches at something deeper and more literary but doesn’t quite deliver.
To his credit, Jeffrey has provided an interesting lead character in Amber Redgrave. Her professional and personal life has been tainted by tragedy, most notably the suicide of her brother and complicated on-off relationship with boss and former lover John. Jeffrey has succeeded in spawning a powerful, independent woman thrown into a sexist world surrounded by men. Fortunately she confronts prejudice head on, asserting her authority and getting in the face of repulsive Ed – a man who I envisage would be played by Ezra Buzzington should this ever receive a film adaptation.
Yet the downfall of Deadfall lies in unbelievable situations. Midway through, whilst bathing in a battle against the undead swarm, Amber tells John she made a mistake when she broke things off with him. This goes against the focused, strong woman that Jeffrey has depicted. Amber does not appear to be the type of woman to let her personal affairs interfere with business, this whole situation seems implausible.
Whilst not unbelievable, Jill’s whiny insecurity, regarding Lofty’s ex, made her instantly dislikeable. This proves problematic given that Lofty and Jill were presumably thrown in to add a little comic relief amongst the chaos. They parody hippy culture incredibly well with their moral dichotomies, dreadlocks and love for Rage Against The Machine; it’s just a pity that Jill comes off as a naive, insecure, little girl. Thankfully as their crucial role in the tale becomes apparent, and the stakes are heightened, the eco-warriors become more likeable. It’s gravely unfortunate that initially the reader may greet Jill’s existence apathetically.
As the severity of the situation, in which Amber and her fellow mercenaries find themselves in, becomes clear, it is also transparent that there is a defector amongst the camp. When this is confirmed there is a sense of heightened tension. Regrettably, Jeffrey’s clever attempts to mask the traitor are too overboard, leading to a groan rather than a gasp for the big reveal. The clever twist that follows is not enough to conceal the initial disappointment.
Whilst Deadfall isn’t as character driven as the apocalyptic visions of David Moody or Wayne Simmons, it does succeed as a fast-paced action thriller. Jeffrey may not have given us a full blown examination of the psyche of each character, but he excels when it comes to laying on thick, satisfying slabs of gore. Jeffrey undoubtedly deserves credit for his diverse executions as readers are treated to a ‘conveyor belt of gore’, ‘curtains of guts slopping either side of his legs’ and the comic ‘Colt Commando assault rifle wedged between his legs like a lethal erection.’ Deadfall may not come under the compulsory category and certainly doesn’t come under the literary bracket, but it works as a wholly entertaining, fun filled, zombie massacre. Fans of action are going to lap this one up. His previous effort The Kult has been optioned for a film and for my money it’s only a matter of time until Deadfall goes the same way.