Friday, 14 January 2011

‘Tooth and Nail’ – Craig Dilouie (Salvo Press)

There is nothing like going to work on a cold and wet January morning to have me hankering for a book about the end of the world... January may be a month to read ‘fun stuff’ but sometimes the whole ‘New Year thing’ is just so plain depressing that you just want to grab something suitably downbeat and just finish the job off yourself! If it’s a book that promises zombies then it pretty much sells itself as far as I’m concerned!
‘Tooth and Nail’ is that very book, on both counts, and would have been read and reviewed a couple of months ago if it hadn’t been for Royal Mail having to wait for all the snow to melt before they could start delivering stuff again. It arrived though and, at a slender two hundred and forty six pages, I whipped through this one in an evening and a commute to work the next day. As much as I was gripped by the story though, there were times when I felt like I ‘had’ to finish this one rather than wanting to...

A variant of rabies has swept the world and now society is fragmenting at a rapid rate of knots. The American military has recalled its forces from around the globe and set them to guarding strategically important buildings while the country gets itself back under control. When the virus unexpectedly mutates though, the situation is officially beyond repair...
Or is it? A research facility in Manhattan may hold a cure for the virus and it’s the job of Lieutenant Todd Bowman and his men to secure the building and rescue the scientists within. First of all though, they must fight their way across a city teeming with rapidly growing numbers of the infected if their mission is to stand any chance of success.

So... ‘Tooth and Nail’ isn’t a zombie novel in the classic sense of the word, especially when compared t o novels such as ‘Pariah’ and ‘The Reapers are the Angels’. The antagonists may want to get their teeth into you but they’re certainly not the walking dead (or even the running dead) by any stretch of the imagination. Think ’28 Days Later’ though and you’ll be on the right lines as ‘Tooth and Nail’ takes the premise of an escaped virus and applies zombie novel themes to the outcome as the survivors are forced to deal with the ongoing situation. ‘Tooth and Nail’ also approaches the whole scenario from the slightly fresher perspective of the military forces assigned to contain the threat (instead of the civilian survivors scrambling through the wreckage) which had me interested from the start.

It’s a real shame then that the way this perspective is displayed on the page goes a fair way to killing a potentially very good story.

I think the fairest way to put it is that if you like heavily detailed military fare (in depth explanation of military tactics, the chain of command, updates on battalion status as well as mention of specific weaponry) then you will get a lot out of ‘Tooth and Nail’. It is clear that Dilouie has put a lot of time and effort into researching the military side of the book and what the reader gets is a very realistic and plausible picture of how the American military might react in the face of an overwhelming apocalypse such as this.

For people like myself though, who prefer the story to be at the fore, this approach might not be such a good thing. I certainly grew frustrated at the overabundance of detail in a book that clearly wasn’t thick enough to handle it. If a book is only two hundred and forty six pages long then its tale needs to be allowed to flow without too much interruption and that wasn’t the case here. There were too many occasions where gratuitous ‘info-dumping’ was an obstacle to the smooth running of the plot. If the entire infected population of Manhattan is hot on your trail then I’d suggest that you don’t have time for a big discussion about where the virus originally came from. Moments like this left the book feeling not as realistic as it had the potential to be.

This was a real shame as Dilouie gets away from the info-dumping, and detail; he does show us that he is well and truly in control of this particular apocalypse.
This isn’t just a stand up fight between soldiers and the infected (although there is plenty of that), every action has ramifications for our characters and these are examined in characters that continue to develop as the story progresses. It’s how these characters deal with what’s going on that really breathes life into the story, whether it’s Sergeant Ruiz’ making it all about protecting the men under his command or Private McLeod aiming to see the funny side in everything. Everyone reacts differently under stress and Dilouie recognises this, capturing a broad spectrum of these reactions in a relatively short space.

When you throw in regular unleashing of awesome displays of firepower against the sombre backdrop of a dying Manhattan (filled with civilians who can’t quite believe that help isn’t coming) you’re left in no doubt that this is the apocalypse and it’s as visceral and raw as it can be. The final scenes in particular reflect this and are all the more poignant as you know it can only end one way...

‘Tooth and Nail’ is an intense and disturbing read yet comes across as being so almost despite itself; at least it did to me. Once you get past all the detail though you can be assured of an apocalypse that is suitably dark and bloody.

Seven and Three Quarters out of Ten.

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