By Randy Stafford
Blackmore, Keith C. Safari (Mountain Man Book 2). Amazon Digital Services, Inc, 2012. USD $3.99. ASIN: B007YQG33Q.
Blackmore, Keith C. The Hospital. Amazon Digital Services, Inc, 2012. USD $0.99. ASIN: B009L2X8KM.
There are worse things than waking up to a house with busted-in doors, a dead girlfriend, and a bunch of dead bikers.
There is, for instance, do-it-yourself dentistry.
That’s the problem Augustus Berry AKA Gus AKA the Mountain Man faces at the beginning of Safari, which picks up right where Mountain Man leaves off. The busted-in doors – and the dead bikers, for that matter – are the result of an assault on Gus’ hilltop home at the end of the preceding novel. The broken teeth are from the girlfriend who led them there – before Gus killed her.
But, when you’re a lone human in a zombie-infested world, there’s no rest. After pulling some teeth with the help of trusty friends Uncle Jack and Captain Morgan, and fending off a zombie horde squirming outside his walls, Gus heads off to town – Annapolis, Nova Scotia – to scrounge some painkillers and lumber and plastic to repair his house. But he also keeps his eye out for clues to an enduring mystery: What happens to the bodies of all those zombies he’s killed in town?
Now, as I said in my review of Mountain Man, I’m no taxonomer of zombies, of their origins, of their behaviors, of their types, of their predation strategies, of their weaknesses, so I have no idea if the answer Gus finds to that puzzle is a unique invention from Blackmore. I can tell you I enjoyed the set piece where the answer is revealed and Gus’ response, which takes up a lot of the final third of the novel. Blackmore is very good at minutely describing action while not slowing down a story.
But, really, there is only so far you can go with just the idea of a zombie safari. And Gus pretty much goes that far at novel’s end. (Okay, maybe some further escalation is possible, since Gus doesn’t actually find a nuke.) And there’re only so many variations of gun, knife, Molotov cocktail, car, and baseball bat applied to rotting zombie flesh that are going to maintain my interest. As with the first Mountain Man novel, I was pretty well satiated with that element of the story.
The part of the story that kept my interest was Gus, the reason I actually paid for this installment of his story. I like his monologues external and internal, whether battling zombies from the ramparts or getting out of bed, his thoughts and his conversations with the rum mascot, Captain Morgan. And Gus’ thoughts are especially interesting here, since Gus has crossed a line: He’s knowingly killed a real human being – even if it was only in self-defense. And what bothers him is that he’s guilt-free about it.
Those months of isolation, the constant fear, his girlfriend Roxanne’s betrayal, have all pushed Gus onto a path of psychological and, perhaps, moral decay. Gus doesn’t spend the entire novel with just zombies, but, when he does meet other survivors, he’s a little too ready to pull the trigger on them, more reckless in his actions, too unthinking in considering the consequences of his acts. All of which leads to sort of a fiery Gotterdammerung at the novel’s climax.
The final chapter of this story gave me pause. I’m still not sure how I feel about it. And, as Blackmore makes quite clear, there is still the matter of Scott and his hunt for the crazed Tenner, the man who killed his friends. That will be addressed in the just-released Hellifax.
So, a chatty (even if it’s only with a rum bottle) hero who’s on the edge, a mystery of zombie ecology, a novel Nova Scotia setting, and action that’s as sharp and hard to ignore as Gus’ broken teeth make Safari a quite enjoyable novel.
And Blackmore’s The Hospital is also now out. It’s a short story taking place about six months before Mountain Man. In it, Gus goes to a hospital in search of supplies and meets its crazed guardian, who will really test his resolve to never kill a human, and a new variation on the zombie menace. I also recommend it for its dark humor and bowel-loosening (at least for Gus) terror.