Saturday, July 5, 2008
Book Review: The condemned by David J. Bell
The Condemned by David Jack Bell
Delirium Books, 218 pages.
$16.95 at Powells.
David Jack Bell is apparently a rising star in the horror field. I saw apparently because the first time I heard of him was when he did an interview on the Pod of Horror podcast with host (and author) Mark Justice. When he discussed the plot to the Condemned I was immediately sold on what sounded like my kind of story. He also has a degree in English from the university where my dad has taught forever and I thought it was cool he lived in Bloomington. What sealed the deal for me to order the book from my local bookstore was the long chain of blurbs this novel managed to get.
To non horror readers the names may not mean much but to those of us with ‘To be read piles’ filled with horror fiction titles these are serious recommendations. Jack Kethchum, Ed Gorman, Thomas Monteleone, T.M. Wright and most important to this reader David Morrell who compared The Condemned to perhaps the best horror novel of all time I am Legend. Bell had a little edge up on the rest of us blurb hunters since he is a star graduate of the borderlands boot camp. That is a week maybe two of professional horror writers teaching the next generation to be the masters of the next. The question becomes is Bell’s novel a good advertisement for the skills taught at the borderlands camp?
The last time I saw a first time novelist in the small press horror field so hyped was Cody Goodfellow, Cody lived up to the hype and I think David Jack Bell has as well. A book this solid may have benefited from great teachers but it is more likely that the author was born a talented storyteller because you can’t bullshit a solid little novel like this no matter how much advice you get.
The novel could be called a zombie tale but that sells it so short. It does have the social commentary typical of the best in that genre but doesn’t get heavy handed with it. To me The Condemned is like a highly literate post apocalyptic Italian exploitation movie. One third Escape from NY, Part I am Legend and one part solid human drama. Bell has a keen eye towards the details of behavior which helped this horror novel rise above the other books in the small press that are not ready for primetime.
The story is about Jett Dormer (which I think is a great 80’s action hero name) a recycler who retrieves old abandoned cars which will be melted into raw materials to support the war effort aboard. Sounds easy enough right, well maybe if the dead cities weren’t filled with roving zombies made that way by a series of terrorist attacks on the water supply. Jett has just lost his partner to zombies referred in the book as city people. His family and friends hate him for it, and he is losing his own motivation when he gets a partner freshly returned from the war.
There is a lot more to the novel anything more and I think you’ll be harmed by too much knowledge going in. Usually I’m not a huge fan of first person, and the idea of a character whose simply referred to as ‘The Kid’ initially caused groans. Those problems are minor and were forgotten once the story got rolling. I can’t recommend this book enough. It’s short but jam packed with excitement and superior story telling skills.
Pick up The Condemned, be one of the first to discover David Jack Bell.