(2013) Peter Stenson, William Heinemann, £14.99, hrdbk, 295pp, ISBN 978-0-434-02205-2
Just when you thought it was safe to come out of your seven day bender, and drug-induced haze, then, suddenly ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! There's a girl outside munching on a dog, and guess what? She wants to munch on you next.
Yes, you may still feel like shit, but the world has gone to shit while youíve been on the meths, or thatís the basic premise of Fiend by Peter Stenson, a very different kind of zombie novel due to the slightly different spin he gives his zombies and the low-life viewpoint of his main character and those around him. This is no brave band of ordinary folk trying to make a stand - sure, they are trying to stay alive, but long enough to get their next hit, and the next and the next after that. Yes, it is a horror novel, an adventure story, nay, even a love story, but it is a quest novel and the quest is to get more meths in this brand new world.
Zombies are bad enough because they want to eat you, and zombies that have thrown the old lumbering, shambling rulebook aside and can charge at you are even creepier, but Stensonís zombies have reached a new high in creepiness - they chuckle, and giggle when they get aroused by the prospect of dining on human flesh, which is a pretty unnerving trait and Stenson milks it to the tension-filled max, even if he does give them the jokey name of the 'Chucks'.
This is edgy, punky, high-energy (yet strangely downbeat) horror with Stenson grabbing you by the lapels and throwing you onto the speeding train he has created which almost covers the flaws and the slight unevenness in places, but hey, it is a first novel and a pretty good one at that, more than ably assisted by a great first person, almost stream of consciousness, narrative voice within the novel that borders on slipstream territory given that it could be a novel about drug addicts who have to negotiate the major inconvenience of a world filled with zombies, or a zombie novel where the lead characters just happen to be drug addicts. Perhaps, it is the drug milieu, but I cannot help being reminded of Walter and Jesse those crystal meth manufacturers from Breaking Bad who come across more like Laurel and Hardy than hardened criminals in some of their exploits. Apart from the premise, Stenson must also be praised for the gritty, dire reality of his major characters and the circumstances that he slowly reveals which have taken them to this low level. More brownie points have been earned from the naming of his characters from Chase Daniels who is our narrator to his friend Typewriter, their dealer The Albino and Chaseís girlfriend KK
Refreshingly different, jam-packed with energy, gore and sex, this is horror for grown ups, and given all that goes before, it does end perfectly, but you will just have to read it and find out why. As the world's most reluctant reader, I will let Stenson off for writing long chapters split into days of the week, because at least he split those days into different periods of time, and, boy, did that time fly by. Recommended, oh, and I will let you decide who Stenson is referring to with the 'Fiend' from the title.
See also Arthur's review of Fiend.
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