Craze is the new novel from Steve Byrne and is published through his own imprint PunkLit. Whereas his earlier novel Phoenix used the Vietnam was as its backdrop, Craze is set in post-apocalyptic Britain. Actually, peri-apocalyptic may be a better description as the events which unfold take place in the midst of the horrors which herald the end of civilisation.
Those horrors are two-fold, the main event being the outbreak of the “Red Death” a viral infection, spread by aerosol, which combines the worst features of the Ebola virus and Haemorrhagic Fever. The infected basically turn to mush from within, leaking bloodily with the added bonus of turning into aggressive… well, zombies… when the virus reaches the brain.
Although the Z-word is never mentioned in the book, the infected (and yes, there’s a word oft-used too) are clearly variations on the classic trope and the scenes in which they are encountered bear all the hallmarks – and trademarks – of much of what has gone before with regards battling the undead. Which sounds like a criticism, but isn’t really. The writing throughout is assured and stylish and, I have to say, Steve’s handling of action set-pieces is second to none and the battles with the infected are genuinely thrilling to read.
In reality, the Red Death and the infected simply provide a backdrop for the second of the threats to humanity, the outbreak of a wave of paranormal phenomena with an associated increase in the practice of dark arts and the formation of the Sons of Lucifer with its gangs of Satanarchists.
All high-concept stuff, and evidence of great imagination at play. I loved the idea, a new twist on the “end of the world” scenario but felt that more could actually have been made of it. As the plucky band of survivors struggle towards their date with destiny, the majority of their run-ins are with the infected or human adversaries – in only one encounter is a demonic presence mentioned, and then only fleetingly. Brief references are made to huge shapes in the sky (most notably above Newcastle, yay!) but, other than in the conclusion of the book, the supernatural elements are kept relatively low-key. Perhaps much was lost in the edit, the story has an epic feel to it – and a cast of characters to match – and maybe there is a huge pile of demonic out-takes on Steve’s cutting room floor. I could be wrong, but I have a feeling that this was a much bigger book originally and that the editing down may have been too extreme. There are a lot of characters and not all of them fully realise their potential I feel, a longer word count may have allowed for some more characterisation.
Don’t get me wrong – I really liked Craze, I just feel that it could have been a great book rather than just a very good one. It’s a worthy addition to the PA canon and I highly recommend that you buy it and enjoy it yourself. Which you can do here.