Posted on March 24, 2010 by Flames
Available at Amazon.com
So- many of you would ask, what do you get when you take equal parts sleepy panoramic beautiful Irish seaside town, a World War II era biological weapon that turns it’s victims into flesh eating walking dead, and a writer that knows how to develop a plot, believable characters along with action sequences that make you believe that you are right in the thick of it all?
Well, I’ll tell you rather than keep you in suspense. You get Irish born author Derek Gunn’s wonderful first full length outing for the zombie/survival horror fiction publishers Permuted Press, entitled : The Estuary, that’s what.
Now before I go on further, I will start by saying that, I have read far and wide on the sub genre of zombie/ survival horror fiction and in the last few months, especially, have found that there is no shortage of the traditional guts and gore, big guns, big action books and short story anthologies from similar publishers, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I have enjoyed all the stories in their own right, but it seems that with the current influx of, well, all things zombie in the publishing world right now, there is a severe shortage in the realm of “quality” rather than quantity. But with Permuted Press titles you often get both, and I am pleased to say that “The Estuary” doesn’t disappoint in relation to either topic.
The story, without hopefully giving away too much, centers around the small coastal Irish city of Whiteshead (inspired, according to Gunn’s website, www.derekgunn.com, by the southern Irish town of Dungarvan) which is home to many eclectic and interesting characters, which is a testament in and of itself to Mr. Gunn’s ability to keep the reader entwined while introducing several different points of view, of which, many become integral to the main story thread. But most prominent are the pair of protagonists comprised of ex British Secret Service Dave Johnson and Reporter John Pender. Who find unlikely friendship and shared terror through a last ditch effort by the Nazi war machine some forty years before the events of the story begin to unfold.
I know that to the casual zombie reader characterization might, at times, be secondary to the action, but some of the brightest spots in Mr. Gunn’s writing is derived from the underlying differences that his characters symbolize; case in point our two main “heroes”. John Pender’s a family man with a wife and children, Dave Johnson is recovering from tragic events in his past that have left him searching for meaning, or possibly to forget the meaning of anything, in the bottom of several bottles.
The events of the story begin to unfold when one of John’s children has an unfortunate accident on the beach, which leads to not just Dave’s involvement, but that of the whole town. It seems that the children have uncovered a two man German submarine, which has been under the sands of Whiteshead for over four decades, which contains a ferocious biological weapon dreamed up by the SS as an attempt to stall the inevitable defeat of the Nazi’s at the hands of the Allies. The zombie action begins with salvagers attempting to dig out the sub, as Whiteshead, along with Ireland in general, is at this time suffering from economic afflictions similar to those going on in America as we speak, to go to the highest bidder-but it’s not a promise of riches that is held within the corroded beast, instead the salvagers find a poisonous gas which has near instantaneously fatal effects, and turns it’s victims into undead flesh eaters. If you have read much horror fiction and zombie fiction in specific, then you can guess what begins to happen next, it is a novel about zombies after all and without a mass of undead it would simply be a novel about a zombie- and where’s the fun in that?
Now on to the good stuff, action- I have to say that Mr. Gunn does a wonderful job at instilling his action with realism, and not a “splatter punk” style tear your head off with gory description or overkill-no, he moves the fight scenes through methodical and deliberate motions, that don’t seem contrived or to lend themselves to some of the traditional trappings of the subgenre.
Another nice thing about “The Estuary” is that it bridges the gap between Director George Romero’s Night Of The Living Dead and the modern world, keeping true to that formula-with a noted and refreshing exception given for the cause of the contagion/undead- the zombies don’t run, they don’t seem to think intelligently, they don’t learn to speak, and the physical and emotional horror of knowing you are putting a hammer or some other blunt object into the head of someone who, not that long ago, may have been your brother/father/uncle/friend/lover is all there.
But more than all of these classical elements of the zombie in film and literature, the characterization stands out as the authors best gift to the mythos, the reader is never left thinking that this person or that person is unbelievable, or this character suddenly breaks out in some form of esoteric martial arts or pulls out their street sweeper, which they just so happen to keep behind the seat of their fine sports car, and mows down the monsters. (A point the author manages to even quip about, aimed at the state of America’s generally liberal stance on gun ownership) No-you have an element of reality that is often overlooked in many modern zombie stories- you have what feels like real people making real decisions to turn a hand outward towards their community or run and hide in the hopes the terror will just burn itself out. The author explores this through several characters outside the relationship between John Pender and Dave Johnson.
I will say that the only detracting factor of the novel is a slight lack of editing- which seems to be a Permuted Press issue and not one with the author, having seen these typos and small errors in other books by the company before, it didn’t bother me to come across misspelled words or errors in the final copy, but a first time reader may find the presentation a bit odd- again I attribute this as no fault to the author- it’s still a printed medium and mistakes will happen, and upon subsequent editions will most likely be fixed.
So, if you are looking for a great read in the horror/zombie/survival horror subgenre that’s filled with fantastic characterization, action, a unique plot and compelling images of suffering, sacrifice and ultimately hope, then pick up a copy of “The Estuary” by Derek Gunn-but keep a flash light by you, and if you hear the shuffling of feet-lock your doors.
Review by Eric Pollarine