Cronin continues the post-apocalyptic—or, better, post-viral—saga launched with 2010’s The Passage.
The good citizens of Texas might like nothing better than to calve off into a republic and go to war with someone with their very own army and navy, but you wouldn’t want to wish the weird near-future world of Cronin’s latest on anyone, even if it means that Rick Perry is no longer governor. Readers of The Passage will recall that weird things have happened to humankind thanks to—sigh—a sort-of-zombie-inducing virus unleashed by, yes, sort-of-mad-scientists who were trying to create supersoldiers out of ordinary GIs. You may be forgiven for thinking of The Dirty Dozen at that point in the plot, but the “virals” in question are far badder than Telly Savalas and John Cassavetes. Enter Amy Harper Bellafonte, known Eastwood-esquely as The Girl from Nowhere, whose job it is to save humankind from its own dark devices. Amy’s chief butt-kicking sidekick is a virally compromised cutie named Alicia Donadio, “scout sniper of the Expeditionary,” who has a weirdly telepathic way of communicating with the baddies. The tale that ensues is pretty generic, in the sense that the zombie/virus/sword-and-sorcery genres allow only so much variation from convention; if you’ve seen the old Showtime series Jeremiah, then you’ll have a good chunk of the plot down. Cronin serves up a largely predictable high-concept blend of The Alamo and The Andromeda Strain, but his yarn has many virtues: It’s very well-paced. It’s not very pleasant (“A strong smell of urine tanged in her nostrils, coating the membranes of her mouth and throat”), but it’s very well-written, far more so than most apocalypse novels, and that excuses any number of sins. And it’s always a pleasure to see strong women go storming around as the new sheriffs in town in a world gone bad, even if they’re sometimes compelled to drink blood to get their work done.
A viral spaghetti Western; it’s not Sergio Leone—or, for that matter, Michael Crichton—but it’s a satisfying confection.