In my opinion, tales of fiction can often be greatly enhanced with the inclusion of a bit of historical fact. Stories such as Vlad by C.C. Humphries, Anno Dracula from Kim Newman and Shadows in the Mist by Brian Moreland are prime examples of horror tales that have twisted historical fact to create truly worthwhile reads.
Scottish author John McCuaig is no stranger to taking events from the past and letting his imagination seize on an idea and weaving a story around memorable events of the past. Having sampled McCuaig's work before and been impressed by his short story The Demons of Glencoe which featured in Children of the Plague, I was drawn to the author's 2012 novel, Pyramid of the Dead.
With my love of history and horror; and familiarity with McCuaig's work, I had no hesitation in picking up Pyramid of the Dead after reading the synopsis. Additionally, I was impressed with the cover art which for me, was evocative of an old-school movie poster; a feeling which recurred as I read the book.
To my mind, taking events and figures from history is a formula for success, when done correctly, since much of the story and the characters themselves have already been created and depth within the lead players is already present since their backstory is already set in stone. Such a foundation serves Pyramid of the Dead well since this tale is very much an action-driven horror with Spanish conquistadors and Incan warriors facing off against a zombie army marching on the command of an ancient demon. For me, the whole story conjured up memories of Hammer Horror films such as She and Plague of the Zombies; which is no bad thing!
There are no real surprises or twists contained within this tale. Pyramid of the Dead is full of stoic heroes, greedy conquistadors, maidens in distress all facing off against an army of the undead led by the villain of the piece, who the reader is set against from his introduction. The fairly linear nature of the plot is no criticism since Pyramid of the Dead is a robust action-horror that delivers with ancient cities plagued by the undead, massive set-pieces that a Hollywood budget would fail to do justice to; all bathed in buckets of gore.
Critically, the book is a little on the short side at under 200 pages. However, it doesn't feel rushed or under-developed, perhaps in part to the pre-existing backgrounds to some of the main players.
Refreshingly, with this book being set around 500 years ago, there's certainly no semi-automatic weapons or chainsaws for despatching zombies. Setting aside the handful of muskets present, this is all very much hand-to-hand combat and as such, there's some pretty brutal scenes involved.
Pyramid of the Dead is a quick, bloody, satisfying read and I sincerely hope that the author continues to deliver high quality historical horror in the future.