GEHENNA RISES by Julian Boote


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Following a worldwide zombie plague, a survivor relates his personal account of a new menace more terrifying than swarms of the undead in Boote’s (EXIT, 2015, etc.) horror yarn.

Years after the Zombie War, Jay Boam is cast in a Hollywood film. The movie, set during the zombie outbreak, is about Beeston, which had been a safe haven during the war in Cheshire, England. History lionized the survivors at Beeston, a village and its castle, where an event known as the First Emergence ultimately led to victory over the undead. Knowing Hollywood’s penchant for altering facts, Jay decides to get the real story from Alec Mitchell, a Beeston survivor and the movie’s on-set adviser. During the zombie outbreak, Alec, an Anglican priest, used his background in science to research the undead’s reanimation with Beeston’s vet/doctor, Jennifer Edwards. Weeks into their work, the two recognized a zombie as someone from a nearby stronghold, so Beeston’s leader, Henry Jackson, sent a drone to survey the area. He then dispatched a group that found death and destruction, but the apparent attack didn’t seem to be the result of either an undead horde or living raiders. In fact, a dying girl at the stronghold claimed the devil himself had attacked them. Back at Beeston, Alec and others stumbled onto something they had never seen before, with the capacity to be far deadlier than zombies. As Beeston was ill-equipped to defend itself against this new threat, a vicious battle for survival ensued. However, present-day Alec, who doesn’t believe he deserves his status as hero, has a confession for Jay.

Boote’s engrossing zombie tale is primarily Alec’s first-person story told to Jay, with occasional prompts from the latter. It’s a believable narration, entirely from the perspective of Alec, who even in retrospect doesn’t know what others were thinking. His account, told chronologically, likewise offers a few surprising plot turns, most notably the nightmarish evil described in the book’s latter half. The story shows a world enduring, as well as adjusting to, the zombie plague, not unlike George A. Romero’s series. Beeston’s harrowing fight is wrought with tension and occasionally grotesque. Fortunately, Boote (via Alec) is thoroughly descriptive: “From the matted mass of grey hair at the peak of his crown a dirty brown line traced a diagonal trail across his face, disappearing below where his right ear would have been, had not everything above that line been sliced clean away.” Footnotes clarify Alec’s copious references to historical events surrounding the war and zombie pandemic. These do nevertheless make some characters a literal footnote. We meet one in particular seconds before death, so readers may have trouble sympathizing. Regardless, other characters are outstanding, especially Henry and British Army Sgt. Peter John Rule, whom the government assigned to assist Beeston. The power struggle between these two further escalates suspense: Henry evidently hopes for a haven independent of the government, and Rule represents the authority he’s trying to escape. While the wrap-up provides sufficient insight into Alec on an emotional level, the novel concludes with an unforgettably unnerving and lasting impression.

Smart, invigorating, and, like the best zombie stories, relentlessly creepy.

Page count: 276pp
Program: Kirkus Indie
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