OR: The Kill Crew

A review that originally appeared in Black Static #13:-

Joseph D’Lacey’s The Kill Crew (StoneGarden.net Publishing paperback, 77pp, £5.95) has a similar end of days feel to the Crowther (see last Thursday’s post), the events of this novella set after the Long Silence, a never pinned down apocalyptic event that knocked out all electrics etc and transformed the majority of humankind into shambling creatures that are zombies in all but name. Humanity, or at least that part in this story, has divided into Stoppers, who live in a barricaded community, and the shambling Commuters, who drag off those they capture to a fate nobody knows. The Kill Crew, always seven people, goes out at night and slaughters those Commuters they stumble upon. But the Commuters are changing, developing a group intelligence and transforming into some sort of plant-animal hybrid. With their numbers down, it is only a matter of time before the Stoppers are overwhelmed. The story is mostly told from the viewpoint of hairdresser turned street fighter par excellence Sheri Foley, who plots her escape from the Station with the young girl Trixie and the man Ike, neither of whom are quite what they seem.

The apocalypse is made more effective by never being explained, but at the same time it opens a whole can of worms with regards to credibility and consistency, as with the fact that most of the Commuters are described as office workers, begging the question of why this should be. It’s almost as if D’Lacey wanted to make use of the office worker drone as a metaphor, but made his usage a little too literal minded. And there are moments when the apocalypse seems simply a matter of convenience, as when Sheri and Ike find a working vehicle at the very moment they most need one. The biggest problem though is why the Kill Crew go out at night when the Commuters are active, instead of taking a leaf out of Robert Neville’s book and hunting down their prey in daylight hours. D’Lacey’s failure to address this is a serious omission, and the reader could be forgiven for concluding that it’s simply because it affords him a pretext for some shoot ‘em up action, and as far as that goes the book has plenty on offer. D’Lacey has proved with his two previous novels that he is a dab hand at writing battle scenes, and that’s just as true of this book, with the fights against the Commuters powerfully described, and the sense that absolutely anything could happen, no guarantees at all about who will come through intact and who will go down fighting.

The real thrust of the story though is with the three lead characters, especially Sheri Foley, and the subtext concerning the end of civilisation which she represents, that the biggest threat of all is the sheer boredom – another day, another fire fight – and the attendant hopelessness that gets into the psyche. In the case of Sheri, who is a fully rounded character and has a distinctive voice, down to earth and casting a cynical eye over all she bears witness to, but still with some feeling for her fellow man, the story is nothing more than a long and slowly unfolding suicide. She not only accepts, but almost embraces her fate, and for what time she has left devotes herself to equipping Trixie, both physically and mentally, to survive after she has gone. Trixie I found somewhat more problematic; she simply didn’t sound like an eleven year old, not even allowing for the need to grow up quickly in these perilous times. In fact, for much of the book, she sounded like Sheri. Ike on the other had was totally convincing as a man torn by lusts that society frowns on, and wondering if, in this new scenario, it would really be so wrong to indulge them.

In conclusion, I liked this very much and had a good time reading it, but all the same I think it could have benefited from a more insightful edit to tease out some of the kinks in the plot.

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