Wednesday, 9 September 2009
‘Death Got No Mercy’ – Al Ewing (Abaddon Books)
As a rule, I’m not normally the kind of person who picks up a book based on the cover alone. At the very least I’ll have a look at the blurb or maybe see what people are saying on-line. Every so often though there’s an exception to the rule, the artwork may not be great but there will be something about the cover which tells me that this is a book I have to read. Like ‘Death Got No Mercy’ for example.
Just look at that cover. Is there anything that’s cooler than a guy taking on a grizzly bear with only his bare fists, a ‘hard as nails haircut’ and a truck load of attitude? I don’t think there is either and that was the reason I had to pick this one up and give it a go. I mean, come on! It’s a guy fighting a bear! (Did I say that already? I don’t care, it’s brilliant!)
It turned out that the high I got from the cover didn’t last through the whole book but I still had a great time reading it...
Cade is a man who you wouldn’t even dare go near in a pub, let alone spill his drink! He’s certainly not going to let anything like the aftermath of an apocalyptic virus get in the way of his daily routine. When one of his companions (Cade doesn’t have friends) runs out of insulin the only option is a trip down to San Francisco, to pick up some more, and the only man who can make that trip is Cade himself. No-one else has ever returned. Cade may not be ready for what lies inside the city limits but the religious fundamentalists, cannibal cults and psychotic hippies certainly weren’t counting on someone like Cade coming to visit...
Al Ewing’s ‘I, Zombie’ was one of the more visceral stories that I’ve read and I thought that reading this would have been ample preparation for ‘Death Got No Mercy’. While Ewing takes the same approach in his latest book, I still wasn’t quite ready for Cade’s one man wave of destruction across a major city and what he leaves behind him. Like death itself, ‘Death Got No Mercy’ is brutal and gets right in your face with it’s depictions of life in the aftermath of ‘The Cull’ (a virus that has killed nine out of every ten people) and what the survivors are prepared to do in order to carry on surviving. This is a book that has no mercy whatsoever, in terms of it’s reader’s sensibilities, and is the better for it. I’d go so far in fact as to say that this is probably the best chapter of the ‘Afterblight Chronicles’, so far, as Ewing pulls no punches in telling us how it really is.
‘Death Got No Mercy’ runs on a plot that starts out compelling and becomes even more so as the stakes are raised for Cade. Things do veer off into cartoonish territory as Cade is built up to be practically invincible and the moments of spectacle intensify accordingly. While this makes for some exciting moments some of the tension is lost as it becomes clear that Cade will always make it through (although I wasn’t sure what would happen when he fought the bear...) Ewing sidesteps this small issue by showing us the more devious side of Cade’s nature (he’s not all about using his fists and will set people against each other) as well as showing us some of the events that have made Cade the man he. Ewing asks the question of whether a person can be born a killer, or if their life moulds them into one, and doesn’t give an opinion at all. Cade is who he is and it’s up to the reader to answer the question themselves. I liked the way this was left open ended as the result was that the question didn’t overshadow the story itself.
It was a real shame then, for me, that ‘Death Got No Mercy’ really fell down when it got all existential and had Cade ‘meet his maker’ partway through. Not only did this really interrupt the flow of the book but it didn’t have much bearing on the plot itself. I was also left wondering why Ewing went to all the trouble of drawing such a believable world only to pull it all down like that and show the reader what lies behind it. Maybe a re-read would shed a little more light on it (and this is certainly a book I’ll be going back to) but it didn’t make a lot of sense this time round...
Despite these niggles, I’m still standing by ‘Death Got No Mercy’ being the best thing to come out of the ‘Afterblight Chronicles’ so far. Fans of the series are in for a treat. If you’re after a short sharp dose of post-apocalyptic fiction then you could do a lot worse than pick this up.
Eight and Three Quarters out of Ten