(2012) Adam Baker, Hodder and Stoughton, pbk, £12.99, 401pp, ISBN 978-1-444-70907-0
I’m not happy with Adam Baker, really not happy at all and the reason why is that I had an idea for a zombie novel set in a desert years ago, but didn’t really do anything with it except let it bubble away on the back burner and now he comes out with Juggernaut, a prequel to his novel Outpost, although they are both fairly stand-alone books, and can be enjoyed separately, even if Juggernaut tells us why things got into such dire straits in Outpost.
To be fair, my intended novel involved a more supernatural basis for the zombie menace while Baker’s novel has echoes of two movies - George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, and Three Kings starring George Clooney. If you know that latter film, then you can probably guess the plot of Juggernaut. Yes, you got it, it is 2005 and seven mercenaries are looking for Saddam Hussein’s gold. The dictator has been captured, but things are still fairly chaotic in Iraq which gives ex-special forces soldier, Lucy Whyte, and her mercenary band the perfect opportunity to go treasure hunting and check out the old temple in a hidden valley in the middle of the desert where the bullion has supposedly been hidden. It couldn’t be simpler, just hire a couple of helicopters and enlist the help of a POW from the Republican Guards whose comrades have all died – ker-ching, and just try on the way to ignore all the rumours about exactly, how all those Iraqi soldiers did die?
Unknown to our disparate, and intense band, the area they are heading for is the crash site of a Russian space station called Spektr (what was I saying about echoes of the Romero film that changed the zombie landscape forever?) and unfortunately the station contained a bio-weapon which has contaminated the surrounding area and the fallen Republican Guards, who are quickly reanimated due to the presence of Lucy and her crew.
Given that premise, Juggernaut lives up to its title, delivering an almost unstoppable rollercoaster ride of action, adventure, mayhem and horror, with a liberal dosing of black humour to spice things up, or relieve the tension in places. Baker doesn’t let his knowledge of extreme desert conditions nor his knowledge of 'tech' and weaponry get in the way of spinning a thrilling yarn through the use of lean, mean prose that is light on the jarring info-dumps. Sadly the chapters are un-numbered but as a reluctant reader I’m happy to report that in keeping with the narrative drive they are reasonably short and interspersed with the odd map, or “for your eyes only” type memos. This could be Andy McNab meets The Walking Dead. Although there could be some criticisms made about the characters being a tad on the stereotypical side – are we talking another film here, namely Predator? But I suppose it is difficult to keep seven major characters up in the air, especially in such a fast-moving plot where there fate really isn’t in doubt, although suffice to say that Baker has excelled himself again with a strong, well-rounded female character, just as in Outpost. There are also some subplots involving manipulative CIA agents and mysterious corporations, but I won’t mention Resident Evil – ouch, just did.
But do not let my flippancy put you off, Adam Baker has come up with a novel that pushes all the buttons and does what it says on the rusty, blood-splattered tin. The only other writer I think that is coming close to this sort of fiction is Jonathan Maberry with his Joe Ledger series of books, the first of which was Patient Zero which mined similar territory – soldiers and bioterrorism – but Baker’s offering is a more believable, grittier affair than Maberry’s G.I. Joe-like novel. However, I wouldn’t be surprised, if like Maberry, Baker’s novel is optioned for the big screen, just like mine could have been, damm.
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