‘Gravesend’ gives hope to series
Being a big fan of Black House Comics’ The Dark Detective: Sherlock Holmes series, when I heard they were publishing a series of pulp-style novellas based in a world where the zombie horde has taken over I was ecstatic. A fantastic little Australian publishing house working in my current favourite genre – what could be better?
Well the excitement dulled somewhat as I traipsed all over the place looking for somewhere to buy Killable Hours, the first in the series. Until just a few weeks ago when their much awaited online store opened the only place you could buy Black House publications was from newsagents. And not very many newsagents had heard of them. So when I finally found it – 2 states later – I devoured it eagerly, like a zombie with a fresh, juicy hunk of thigh, only to be left – well – unsatisfied.
Clay Blakehills’ Killable Hours is set inside a law firm in Melbourne, just as the zombie outbreak is occurring. One of the lawyers brings his brand new virus to a team meeting and viola! instant zombies. Leaving aside for the moment that lawyers are more commonly associated with bloodsucking vampires than flesh-eating zombies, the pun in the title (on the phrase ‘billable hours’ – sheesh!) is cute, and the notion of zombie corporate lawyers has a lot of potential, but unfortunately it just isn’t realised here. There is a lot of action, but it tends to be of the: I killed a zombie, I nearly got killed by a zombie, I killed a zombie, Oh Dear! Look out! There are zombies! variety – which quickly becomes quite dull if the characterisation isn’t up to scratch. The protagonist is likeable and heroic just not very interesting, and that tends to sum up the whole book. There’s nothing wrong with it – but for someone who likes a bit of concept in their horror it’s just a bit blah. (Mind you – not everyone agrees with me – see this review at Scaryminds). That’s not to say there aren’t some good moments – a Senior Partner overcoming his shellshock to take to the zombies with a nine-iron is good fun – and the occasional updates from outside media and blogs that the characters find are creatively employed, but I was just a bit underwhelmed.
Enter Gravesend. Determined to give the series a second try, and encouraged by the fact I could just buy the new title online, my copy of Jason Fischer’s Gravesend arrived on Friday. I’d eaten it all up by Saturday and still wanted more – but this time in the very best of ways. Set in a small English town where a ragtag group of survivors have barricaded themselves in to wait out the apocalypse, Gravesend centres around teenager Tamsyn, and her fellow inmates as they struggle to establish a system of order and a new way of seeing the world in the wake of the destruction. In the best tradition of zombie horror (see Romero’s films or the terrifying 28 Days Later) the real monsters in this story are the humans themselves, and the core battle is not between the survivors and the zombies but between hope and resignation. Insightful social commentary, realistic characters and still enough gore to make it a zombie story, Gravesend was a real pleasure.
I was hesitant before – but now I can’t wait for the next in the series. I’ll just have to chew over some old meals while I’m waiting.