Thursday, 3 June 2010

‘Dog Blood’ – David Moody (Gollancz)


Being the grumpy kind of guy that I am (generally) I used to think that there were a lot of people in the world that I hated; more often than not those who just will not get out of my way when I’m trying to get to and from work...
There may well be a special place in Hell reserved for selfish London commuters (not that I’m still bitter, not at all...) but I’ve come to realise that there’s no-one who I actually hate. I mean, ‘hate’ is such a strong word isn’t it? If you hate someone then it’s not just a case of half heartedly wishing bad luck on them, you would be quite happy to see them dead. You would probably be more than happy to do the deed yourself... Now look at that guy on the tube who got your seat, you don’t actually hate him at all do you?
Imagine feeling so strongly about a person that your overriding urge is to beat them to death with whatever is close to hand. Actually, you don’t have to imagine that. David Moody has already painted that picture in his book ‘Hater’ and now he’s back to tell us what happens next...

Civilisation has crumbled and in this new post apocalyptic landscape there is only one basic truth; you’re either a Hater or one of the Unchanged and you must kill the other side before they kill you.
Haters have grasped this fact only too well and are killing every one of the Unchanged that they come across. Unchanged refugees cower in the city centres while their army fights a losing battle in the countryside. Danny McCoyne is somewhere in the middle of all this. As much as he hates the Unchanged, all he wants to do is find his five year old daughter and keep her safe. Danny’s daughter is a Hater as well but is something else entirely at the same time. Children’s lack of inhibitions make them true Haters...
Danny will eventually find out just what this means but before he does his journey will take him across a shattered landscape locked in a war that will never end until one side has been wiped from the face of the earth...

Every so often a book comes along that totally rewrites your entire reading landscape. Before you get too excited, ‘Dog Blood’ isn’t going to redefine literature or anything like that. What is does redefine is just how utterly ruthless and downright vile one human being can be to another on the written page. Moody knows only too well that when a line is drawn between life and death people will do whatever they can to stay on the right side of that line. The results are displayed in a language that is all the more brutal for its simplicity. Moody tells it like it is, the scale and nature of his apocalypse deserves no less. If you can’t deal with it then put the book down. Actually, if you can’t deal with it then don’t pick the book up in the first place. I like a liberal dose of violence and gore in my work but there were a couple of instances where I had trouble continuing to read as things got a little too close to the bone for my liking... Whether you’re of a squeamish nature or not though, one thing you cannot deny is that the violence Moody employs drives the story along at an intense rate. ‘Dog Blood’ is only two hundred and seventy nine pages long but the pace at which the story travels makes it feel like there are a lot more pages crammed into that small space.

Moody also paints a grim and compelling picture of the aftermath of society’s collapse that’s worth the price of entry. An apocalypse isn’t just about that initial explosion, the smouldering remains are also there to pored over and sifted through. While the Haters make this new landscape their own, the Unchanged try to hold onto the past for as long as possible and that jarring contrast adds to the sense that things are fractured beyond repair. Add tonnes of mud, poignant reminders of ‘normal life’ and life from the perspective of one of the Unchanged (with a revelation that totally caught me out) and you can’t help but feel that Moody has got it spot on with the backdrop that he has created.

The plot itself occasionally veers into territory as black and white as the conflict it is seeking to depict. In a world where the overriding imperative is to kill if you want to survive all the story can do is move from one conflict to the next. While attempts are made to look at the subject matter and see how it can be explored (which are interesting) you can’t escape from a sense of repetition that is just as likely to lull the reader into a familiar rhythm (detracting from the story itself) as it is likely to force home some particularly nasty messages. McCoyne’s character isn’t helpful here in that his single-minded obsession with finding his daughter can override the backdrop that Moody has gone to so much trouble to create. Things stop being about the Haters and become about Danny asking himself the same questions over and over again as he continues on his quest. Moody does a great job in showing his readers what drives Danny as a character (and by extension, the whole plot) but I was left wondering if I needed to be shown as often as I was...

Just when this was really starting to get to me, Moody proceeded to pull out all the stops and close this part of the series off in some style! I don’t think I’ve ever seen a fictional city implode in quite the same way as this one does, Moody really captures the essence of panic in a crowd teetering on the edge... and falling over it. What’s even better though is the way that Moody replicates this intensity of emotion in a much smaller group, hooking the reader for those last few pages and leaving them gasping by the end. If Moody wants his readers eagerly anticipating the next instalment then he’s succeeded as far as this reader is concerned. I can’t wait to see how it all ends!

In what has been a great week for books coming off the reading pile, ‘Dog Blood’ keeps the record going with a read that lived up to the standard set by ‘Hater’. Its subject matter does cause ‘Dog Blood’ some problems as far as the structure of the novel is concerned but, on the whole, it is a worthy successor to ‘Hater’ and you can count on my being around when it all comes to it’s inevitable bloody conclusion...

Nine and a Half out of Ten

2 comments:

Alec said...

Hmmm. Well rehashed premise. If you take out the end of the work type stuff, it sounds eerily similar to Deliverance which I HIGHLY recommend.

David Moody said...

Nice one, Graeme. Glad you enjoyed it (if 'enjoyed' is really the right word to use...!)

Thanks for the positive words.