I've been debating this post for a while now. A friend of mine, Doug Jeffreys, the sharp eyed among you will recognize his name from the occasional comment he posts to my blogs, wrote a novel that you guys might be interested in and published it himself as an e-book. On the one hand Doug's a great guy and I don't want to hurt his feelings with anything I might say about his book. Or it's more like I don't want him to hurt me with anything I might say about his book. He's a pretty big guy and could pretty much squash my head between his thumb and forefinger like a grape. Not to mention that his kid's a Marine. On the other hand, Doug is a great guy and I'm sure he can take anything I might say about his book. Actually, Doug is one of two friends I have who have self-published e-books, but the other one isn't about fighting zombies so you probably won't be interested in it.
Anyway, Doug's book is entitled The Darkest Hour. I paid $0.99 for it on Kindle. For that price you really can't go wrong. I read it straight through and I think it took me about 3 hours to read it. $0.33 per hour can't be beat for reasonably good entertainment. Doug talked up his book as a thinking man's zombie story. I have to agree with him. It really is. To some degree it's the same old, same old, but I really don't think that can be avoided. I mean, ultimately, the book's about fighting zombies, right? So there's going to be a certain amount of it that looks - on the surface - like other fighting zombie stories. Doug explained that he did this on purpose - he followed the classic zombie/infection/post-apocalypse sequence to demonstrate the difference between his story and the typical ones that are out there. Unfortunately, some of the uniqueness of it is actually in the backstory rather than the main plot, although there is one large chunk of plot that stands out. Perhaps this will allow for a prequel and some novels that develop other parts of the story.
The critters in his book aren't classic zombies, however, which he considers to be undead, but are people infected with a virus making them act like what we're used to calling zombies. I won't give away the story, but basically terrorists spread the virus, eventually succumbing themselves to its ravages. The hero, Duke, survives by retreating into the woods after his wife and daughter are killed by the zeds. Two things give him pleasure: killing the infected as a form of revenge and helping other survivors to safety. In time, he unites with various characters and groups, who in the end are able to return to a relatively normal, though depopulated world.
I'll just make a couple of observations about the characters and setting. The hero is loosely based on himself. Sorry, Doug, you didn't hide yourself too well, but as Doug said, he knows himself better than anyone else! Many, if not most of the characters are loosely based on people he knows in one way or another as well. Nope, you didn't hide that too well, either! (And all despite the standard disclaimer to the contrary at the beginning of the book.) The setting is also made up of mostly real places (if not all - I'm not familiar with some of the places he described), which he calculated adds to the terror by associating the events of the story with places readers have been to or seen.
Generally speaking the book is well written, but it could have benefited from some thorough proofreading and kick-butt criticism. Two factors mar the book. First is a feeling of incompleteness. In some parts, it seems as though he didn't develop his outline into full story format. You feel like you're reading his notes rather than the final version. There are parts where I want to know more, though there are parts where the story is pretty full. Second is a number of 'typos'. This was surprising as having been around Doug for a few years now, I know that he writes very well. These mostly take the form of incorrect capitalization, disjointed sentences (as though he changed a thought, but didn't fully correct the sentence, etc.), and some places where the tense shifts inappropriately. There are also a couple (literally) of factual errors, but most people wouldn't notice those at all in all honesty and they don't play a factor in the story. This was surprising also, as I know Doug to be very thorough and he seriously did a lot of research to be sure of the facts used in the book. These errors simply involve the operation of military HMMWVs and their associated equipment, which you probably wouldn't know unless you've operated one. The story could be changed in minor ways to account for them without missing a beat. Overall though, I've read a lot of paper and ink books that didn't have as good a story, and a few that weren't much better in terms of typos.
I asked Doug to read this review before I posted it and to feel free to respond, rebut or whatever he wanted - even offering to post his response to the blog. He gave me some explanation and told me to go ahead and post the review as was. In fairness to him, and to be as accurate as possible with you, I did make some changes to the review so that I wasn't being misleading. The story was originally written as a screenplay. In rewriting it, some of the tense, grammar, etc., was lost in translation. Doug did have a good proofreader, but maybe a bit too good - he was driving Doug nuts and in Doug's own haste and frustration, Doug went ahead with publication rather than go through more corrections. When you realize that this is his first effort, you can understand the errors and look forward to subsequent editions and prequels/sequels to the story. They will absolutely get better. Good job, Doug, and best wishes with future writing.
If you can forgive or ignore the negative facets, you're in for a treat. Especially after you've read the book and you go back and think about some of the elements that aren't completely voiced, such as the political and terrorism linked backstory, and some elements that are, such as Juice's part of the story (you'll have to read it yourself - I'm not going to tell you). These add a menacing element that really becomes apparent after the reading, as the reader ponders the consequences of the decline of society. And again, whatever you think, for $0.99 you can't beat the price for a couple of hours of entertainment. If nothing else, show your support for a budding author who actually has original ideas for a change.