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May 11, 2006

'48 - James Herbert

There is something about an author whose work you have grown up with.

I've been reading James Herbert's novels since I was a young teenager: The Rats, The Fog, The Survivor, formative stuff. I enjoyed them at the time, and he became Britain's most popular writer in the horror genre.

He still writes, and I seem to have gotten a bit behind, as I have with Stephen King. So I picked up '48 and decided to give it a go. I sort of wish I hadn't.

The only skill present in this novel is that of spinning out a chase for quite so many pages. Characterisation is zero. It's just a seemingly unending set of fights between the hero, Hoke, and a group of zombie-like people. There are serious echoes of "I am Legend", the book by Richard Matheson filmed as "The Omega Man".

The backstory is quite interesting; it's an alternate history plot where Hitler infects the world with a deadly virus near the end of the Second World War. This wipes out all people except those with a fairly rare blood group. Hoke is an American airman in London, married to an English woman. When disaster strikes, he survives alone, and wanders the streets of the city. Some survivors have symptoms which mean they can live for years, but they are driven mad and band together in groups hunting the normal people. Hoke calls then Blackshirts, as for some reason they have all appropriated this mode of dress.

The novel's action takes place in 1948, three years after the atrocity. Hoke wakes up and is chased by the Blackshirts. He meets a few other normal people, and together they flee across London. That's about it. Fight, flee. Fight, flee. Hoke is the narrator throughout, and his American turn of phrase feels unnatural, and jars every time some obviously un-English word like "heck", or "darned" is thrown in. His reason for remaining in London, his secret task, is easily guessable and untimately unbelievable.

All in all, this is one of those books solely for the Herbert completist. The descriptions of London are intersting if you know the city well. Might make a good first person shooter video game.

Posted by se71 at May 11, 2006 11:12 AM


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