by Michele Kornegay
By Suzanne Robb
Twisted Library Press: 2011
4 / 5 zedheads
Brace yourselves for a trip under the sea in Suzanne Robb's character-driven, detail-laden, and (eventually) action-packed Z-Boat.
Zombies at the bottom of the ocean? That's a plot twist I've never encountered before, so I was eager to dive in (pardon the pun). Despite a slow start, in the end Z-Boat was satisfyingly scary and more than enough to keep this horror-lover on the edge of her seat.
The Prologue sets up the story: The world has "tumbled into chaos." Recession and poor leadership have brought about the downfall of once-powerful nations; in their place, Russia, Israel, and North Korea have risen up to rule as dictators. The population has exploded, and so has science, specifically genetic alteration of crops. The end result is a polluted, toxic environment above water, with the only hope lying beneath the ocean's surface. There, the search has begun for alternative fuels, food, and clean water.
Enter the crew of the Betty Loo, a submarine hired for a search-and-rescue at the ocean's bottom. Their mission is to rescue survivors and retrieve a special item from a stranded submarine (which we later learn is ironically named The Peacemaker). Leading them is the hapless and ineffectual Captain Iain Kingston, an alcoholic. Others on board are Ally, the pilot; Marcus, the mechanic and Ally's boyfriend; Nina, a diver; and Dutch, an engineer and original crew member of the Betty Loo. Joining them is a group of specialists hired for the mission: Ivan, the leader of the search-and-rescue; Maxine, a doctor; Tom, a pilot; Kramer, a scientist; and Johnny, a diver with an ego.
If you're a fan of tales with well-drawn characters, this is a book for you. Robb takes great pains to provide a back story for and get us inside the heads of everyone on board the Betty Loo. But even with this attention to detail, the characters are shrouded in mystery. Each has something to hide, something they're holding back from the others--be it secret drug abuse, past membership in a government militia, or even responsibility for an epidemic that wiped out millions of people in the Pacific Northwest. The reader is left with questions about who's working for whom and where everyone's allegiances will lie once they reach the stranded submarine, which only adds to the story's suspense.
Because of the attention to character development, it takes a bit longer for the tale to get to the zombies than I personally would have liked. But once the Betty Loo docks with The Peacemaker, Z-Boat becomes an all-out free-for-all that's heavy on gore and guts. From that point on, the story moves quickly and is action-packed. The scenes on board The Peacemaker are confused, chaotic, and drenched in zombie ooze. When the crew travels back to the Betty Loo, hobbled but assuming that their mission is complete and the worst is over, even more horror awaits, ultimately leading to crew members battling crew members for survival. In the end, Robb leaves the door open for a sequel; if that story is anything like Z-Boat, it will be a pleasure to review that one, too.
Michele Kornegay, a suburban Philadelphia work-at-home mom, has a deep affection for the horror genre that would probably freak out her fellow PTA members. She doesn't scare easily, at least when it comes to the macabre (her irrational fear of flying is another thing). She knew she'd found her soul-mate in her husband of 15 years when, on their second date, he suggested they watch the Hellraiser movies. They currently share their love of things that go bump in the night with their 10-year-old son--in small doses, of course. For her non-zombie-related writings, follow her on Tumblr: michelekornegay.tumblr.com