Ever wondered what might happen if flu turned people into zombies? No, me neither. Now having read this feisty little tome I can see that it's a question that definitely needs asking. You see, in this tale from Wayne Simmons a flu pandemic wipes out most of civilisation, and those who die coughing up their internal organs don't stay dead. Instead they rise as cannibalistic undead, and roam the streets seeking out the few survivors to satisfy their hunger.
The streets in this particular tale of the lurching dead are those of Belfast, Northern Ireland. The run down council estates of these environs provide a perfectly bleak backdrop to the story. Peopling the remains of this environment, are those who survived the initial bout of zombie plague to serve as protagonists. They are a varied bunch and include an ex IRA gunrunner, a retired army major, and a young skinhead.
Despite the silly sounding idea of a flu pandemic causing a zombie apocalypse, I found this book to be great fun. It has a dark wit running through it, and a great punk attitude; lean, mean and full of energy. I really liked Simmons's writing style too, I found it enthusiastic and straight to the point. Some may not be so keen, however, as it's blunt and frequently involves swearing. For me the at times sardonic tone suited the story perfectly. Not that there is a great deal of obvious humour, but a dark humour permeates the narrative and dialogue.
This book is so lean it could be an advert for Weight Watchers. At 282 pages of almost non stop zombie mayhem, there is certainly no padding. Thankfully the characterisation doesn't suffer from its slightness. You know enough of what you need to know about the characters to make them interesting and rounded. As the story evolves you get a sense of the very different worlds they all inhabited before civilisation collapsed. This works really well in a Northern Irish setting as it evokes - without Simmons needing to make any explicit point - how meaningless the divisions between people are in the face of widespread catastrophe and mass death.
Further into the story we learn of threads that connect some of the protagonists to one another, although they don't all meet. Simmons also reveals a little of the events that occurred following the initial outbreak of the virus, and the response of the authorities. This is typically bleak and unforgiving, but the ideas are not really anything new. What works well is the tension created among the characters, as some suspect the involvement of others in dark deeds. Tension and mistrust amongst the surviving characters is always present. The flu virus is airborne, and unsurprisingly paranoia has become the norm. Again, I like the writing of the characters and crucially, I cared about what happened to them.
This isn't the most original book you're ever going to read. In many ways this book reminded me a lot of the film 28 Days Later. The zombies in this are not driven by rage, but by hunger, and perhaps by a need for warmth. Simmons never actually explains what is driving his zombies, there are just hints in their behaviour. This is true of many other aspects of the story as well, and when I reached the end I still had a lot of questions which hadn't been answered. This left me feeling a little unsatisfied, but because I enjoyed the book, what I really wanted was a sequel. I don't know if a sequel is planned, but it feels like it should have one. I would certainly buy it.
In summary Flu is a belligerent little number. An easy to read, action packed blast of zombie shenanigans, that I thoroughly enjoyed. Above all I found it a fun read, and unlike the zombie hordes within, it certainly wasn't brain dead. There may be a lot that's never really explained, but what remains is a highly entertaining addition to the zombie canon.